A furious row has erupted in Britain after a long-awaited Home Office report on drug abuse prompted claims by the Liberal Democrats that it was "suppressed" by the Conservative party.
Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat Home Office drugs minister, said the report had been suppressed by the Conservatives.
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg repeated the claim and said the survey — which found the “toughness” of a country’s drug enforcement policy did not affect the level of substance abuse — showed the “war on drugs” was failing.
The Liberal Democrat leader said there was now an urgent need for reform and accused the Conservatives of a “totally misplaced, outdated, backward-looking view” of the issue.
Downing Street hit back, warning the Lib Dems’ calls for decriminalisation sent “an incredibly dangerous message”.
The dispute, which has been festering for months, broke out after the Home Office finally agreed to release the report — which the Lib Dems had originally commissioned — comparing drugs policies in different countries.
Speaking on his weekly LBC radio phone-in, Mr Clegg complained that the Conservatives had tried to block its release.
“The report this morning, pushed by me and the Liberal Democrats against resistance from the Conservatives, is the first time in a generation that a government-commissioned report has shown the evidence that the way we are doing things doesn’t make sense,” he said. Mr Clegg, who called for the abolition of prison sentences for the possession of drugs for personal use earlier this year, said the report should come as a wake-up call to the other parties that the current system was failing.
“This war on drugs is not working. We have got to get away from this facile view that just talking tough solves this problem,” he said.
“The evidence shows that a smarter approach [would be to] deal with addicts as people who need treatment so they don’t remain hooked on the stuff that is being pushed at them by criminals.
“That actually frees up resources that allows you to go after the pushers and the criminal gangs and the ‘Mister Bigs’ who should be behind bars.
A Number 10 source, however, insisted the report provided “no support whatsoever” for the Lib Dems’ policy of decriminalisation.
“The Lib Dem policy would see drug dealers getting off scot-free and send an incredibly dangerous message to young people about the risks of taking drugs,” the source said.
In an international comparators study, the Home Office looked at different approaches to drugs policy and treatment in a number of countries, including some that have harsh criminal sanctions for users and some that have effectively decriminalised possession of drugs.
The study found no evidence that levels of drug use were affected by how “tough” or “soft” a government’s response is, suggesting criminal sanctions have little impact.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved