Clegg makes drug reform mainstream

Nick Clegg took his demand for reform of Britain's drug laws into the political mainstream today, with a newspaper article in which he dared the Conservatives to support him.

The deputy prime minister has been increasingly confident in his campaign for changing Britain's drug laws since a trip to Colombia last week in which he spoke with reformist president Juan Manuel Santos.

"I want to end the tradition where politicians only talk about drugs reform when they have left office because they fear the political consequences," he wrote in the Observer.

"This has stifled debate and inhibited a proper examination of our approach.

"The choice we have to make now is how we do things differently. Repeating the mistakes of the past is not the way to solve this problem in the future," he added.

"It is why I am a firm believer in the need for a royal commission in Britain and why I am so disappointed at my coalition partner's refusal to engage in a proper discussion about the drugs problem."

David Cameron and Theresa May shot down calls from the home affairs committee for a royal commission on drugs in 2012.

That refusal forced Clegg to follow the alternate route of setting up a Liberal Democrat report on international alternatives to prohibition, led by Home Office minister Norman Baker.

Even without Conservative support, it is still the first UK government report examining legal alternatives to drugs in other countries.

"We should be led by the evidence of what works, not guesswork," Clegg said.

"I believe there is an increasing critical mass of international voices, in Latin America and in Europe.

"They are saying we've got to think anew and mustn't be limited by our blinkered view about what the approach was in the past."

President Santos sponsored an influential drug report by the Organisation of American States last year and is now looking ahead to a special session of the UN in 2016 to further press for change. Clegg wants European countries to work together ahead of the session to come up with a common position.

His efforts come amid a real sense of momentum in Latin America, where many leaders across the political spectrum are increasingly demanding radical changes to international drug laws.

The drugs trade has proved an existential threat to the security of many Latin American countries, particularly those on the route between producer nations and the USA.

For many smaller states, like those in central America, the drug traffickers have far greater resources and manpower than their own armed forces.

Even a relatively prosperous country like Mexico has teetered on the brink of becoming a failed state, as it tries to deal with the increasingly violent and destabilising tactics of drug cartels.

Meanwhile, the political consensus in Europe and the US has increasingly swung behind drug law reformers who want more lenient sentencing – and in some cases full legalisation – alongside a medical, rather than a criminal, focus to anti-drug efforts.

"Many people in Britain and the rest of Europe will still be unaware of the impact drug use in western nations has on countries on the frontline of the drugs trade," Clegg said.

"It is only right, then, that we play a part in helping to find a solution.

"The status quo is failing."

Clegg's intervention may also be motivated by Lib Dem efforts to differentiate themselves from the Conservatives in the run up to the 2015 genera election.