The position of the Liberal Democrats on drug use is clear. We want an evidence-based, hard reduction approach to drugs that helps cut crime and keep people healthy.
The first step is to treat addiction as a medical issue. Criminalising people for their drug problems does not help addicts stop using illegal substances. Where people have committed offences to support their habits, of course they should be held accountable for their actions. But locking people up and throwing away the key does no-one any favours.
Does this mean that we should go easy on dealers, and those who prey on people struggling with addiction? Absolutely not. They should continue to face the full weight of the law. But when a policy is expensive, inflexible and not delivering, arguments for change are persuasive.
We need to look again at how we can tackle the harm that drugs do within our communities. I share people’s concerns about the health impacts of any drug – legal or illegal. But there is a growing body of evidence that we can better manage the harm that cannabis does by taking the money we currently spend on policing the illegal market and investing it in public health.
With successful legal cannabis markets emerging in different parts of the world, the time is right to examine what a regulated, legal market for cannabis in the UK might look like. I am pleased that Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, has announced the formation of an independent panel to examine the challenges that this would present.
Panel members include Professor David Nutt, the former chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. There will also be representatives from the criminal justice sector.
These experts are due to report back in the spring. Of course, health and justice policy is devolved. But the panel’s work will be an important contribution to the debate on the future of drug policy in Scotland.
Willie Rennie is leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats