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In moving this amendment I seek to strengthen what I see as a stand-out quality in this motion and Ewan's work in this area – the centrality of reliable scientific advice, delivered independently from the political arena
The motion is distinct from the outset because it acknowledges that as well as there being undoubted evidence of the health-related, economic and societal harms that drug use can cause, there is also evidence that the policies historically in place to tackle these harms can themselves be harmful – that many of the adverse impact drugs have on our communities are down to the way current drugs law is formulated
So where does this evidence come from? Ideally it would come from independent clinicians, scientists and social scientists who dedicate their professional lives to studying how drugs work, how best to control their usage and to minimise the harms they cause. Sadly, drugs policy is far too often based more on moralising ideology, and on appeasing tabloid headline-writers, than robust evidence.
I'm sure you recall the low-point in the way government treats scientific advice in relation to drugs policy. The shameful dismissal of Prof. David Nutt, at the time the government's chief adviser on drugs as the chief of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, exemplified the contempt the previous Labour administration had for scientific evidence.
But the relationship between government and its scientific advisers didn't break down over the mistreatment of just one expert, it's been the systematic sidelining of independent advice, most prominently when it came to drugs policy but in other areas too, that motivated this amendment.
The motion calls for an independent Impact Assessment of current drugs policy, and for several reforms to the law as it stands. Without robust scientific insight, how can we be confident in that enquiries' verdict? How can we be sure that policies implemented with the best of intentions are in fact working at all?
Only the very best clinicians, scientists and social scientists can make such a judgement – and not by making arguments from authority, but by describing the data from reliable studies without fear of being ignored or silenced should said data not fit with prevailing attitudes.
So today, by passing this motion, we have the opportunity to show communities across the world that are blighted by the harms caused by drugs – and the failed war on drugs that does far more harm than good – that we are serious about cutting these harms through a balanced, evidence-based approach.
Today we have a further opportunity, by passing the motion as amended, for Lib Dems to make a clear statement – that instead of discarding scientific evidence the minute it appears inconvenient or contradicts our own prejudices or those of a fearmongering press, we will place reliable, independent scientific advice at the heart of our policy-making process, especially on the issue of drug harms.