Drug use is a health issue and not a crime, delegates at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference have been told.
Norman Baker, the Government minister in charge of drugs policy and crime prevention, said that he is interested in harm reduction and making policy based on ‘evidence’ and not ‘prejudices’.
Critics have described a decriminalisation approach as “deeply flawed”.
Citing decriminalisation in Portugal, Baker claimed that a different approach was needed because “the war on drugs internationally cannot be won”.
“I’m interested in minimising the harms from drugs and we shall follow wherever that takes us in terms of the evidence, rather than basing our policy on prejudices”.
The minister was speaking as part of the policy motion: ‘Doing What Works to Cut Crime’.
Vice-chair of the Lib Dem Conference Committee Geoff Payne, who introduced the motion, argued that “imprisoning people for simple possession of small quantities of drugs” should stop.
He suggested Britain could “start with cannabis” on the basis that “around the world there are more and more examples of regulated cannabis markets developing”.
But earlier this week, John Hickenlooper – the governor of the US state of Colorado where cannabis for recreational use was legalised at the start of this year – admitted it had been a “reckless” move.
The Lib Dem proposals were announced just as a review of studies spanning 20 years on the effects of cannabis has revealed that the drug increases the risk of mental and physical health problems.
The stance is in line with Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who this week branded Britain’s drug policy as “idiotic” and said drug users should no longer be sent to prison.
Mr Clegg announced back in August that the Liberal Democrat 2015 general election manifesto would pledge to end prison sentences for possession.
Under the plan even those caught with Class A substances such as heroin and cocaine would avoid jail.
Responding at the time, a spokesman from the Home Office defended the current law saying, “drugs destroy lives and cause misery to families and communities and this Government has no intention of decriminalising them”.
Last month, a similar call to decriminalise personal use of drugs worldwide was dismissed as “deeply flawed” and a “major step back” by drug misuse expert Professor Neil McKeganey.