The Lib Dems should vote to legalise drugs. That would give us something to smile about – and believe in

The Liberal Democrats have a chance to become the first British mainstream party with a distinctive policy that doesn’t play on the politics of fear

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The Independent Online

Last week, I had dinner with an American actor who was enthusiastically extolling the benefits of state-controlled cannabis. He was describing how, in places where it is legal, customers can go into a shop and choose a product to give exactly the effect they want to achieve, like with wine or fine Scotch. His personal aim was “to feel mellow – and have great sex”. 

If legalising dope would make everyone in Britain just one per cent more smiley and less hostile, can you think of a better reason to bite the bullet and change the law? We are definitely going through fearful times, guaranteed to increase our levels of anxiety. Turn on the telly or radio and politicians on all sides compete to ramp up the doom-laden consequences of leaving (or staying in) Europe. Depending on who you listen to, we’ll either be paying more for food (or less), be out of work (or have more opportunities), and be over-run with immigrants – no wonder most people I meet can’t make up their minds which way they want to vote. 

Today, the Liberal Democrats have a chance to become the first British mainstream party with a distinctive policy that doesn’t play on the politics of fear, immigration or leaving the EU. At their spring conference in York, the party is debating whether to make the legalisation of cannabis a manifesto policy. 

The impetus comes after the publication of a report they commissioned into the pros and cons of introducing state control of marijuana. Drug experts, scientists, police chiefs and scientists all concluded that to legalise cannabis would be safer than leaving it in the hands of criminals. The report suggests cannabis should be strictly regulated, produced under licence and sold in state-controlled shops to adults over the age of 18, with controls on pricing and potency, in plain packaging. If taxed like cigarettes or alcohol, the market for cannabis could yield as much as £1bn a year in revenue to the Treasury. 

Every year, thousands of citizens get a criminal record for possessing dope. I was fined £5 back in 1968 for being caught with a piece of hash the size of my little fingernail. Ridiculous. 

Most senior police officers recognise that the “war on drugs” is never going to be won. It is a complete waste of their time and hard-pressed resources to fingerprint and charge every person caught using cannabis. 

In other countries, the tide is turning. In 23 US states, cannabis has been decriminalised for medicinal use. Four states, and many major cities, allow it to be sold for recreational purposes. It has not led to an increase in users, according to a study earlier this year. 

Sadly, the Lib Dems have only allowed an hour to debate a proposal that merits far longer consideration. It’s about time we managed to talk about drugs in a non-emotional, calm way. It costs millions of pounds to drag people into court for a pastime that is never going to change and can never be policed properly. I fail to see why state-produced cannabis of a guaranteed quality should be any more dangerous than a bottle of wine. 

The same politicians who are so over-exercised about immigrants entering our country illegally in search of work seem perfectly relaxed about a major industry in the UK being in the hands of organised gangs, with its products sold by petty criminals who deal in cash, thus avoiding  tax or getting a real job. 

A report commissioned by Nick Clegg when he was Deputy Prime Minister argued that legalising drugs would bring in £1bn in taxes a year. The Home Office swiftly said there were no plans to change the law and the report has probably been shredded. 

Drug use is the single subject guaranteed to get most people in the public eye talking utter nonsense. The Lib Dems must grasp their chance today, because then they’ll stand for something I believe in.


Confront the baby-boomers and face the consequences   

Suggest that some pensioners might be comfortably off and you’ll get monstered on social media. 

Yesterday, my Twitter account was bombarded with complaints from hundreds of angry senior citizens after I presented a film on ITV that discussed the huge financial imbalance between my generation of baby-boomers and today’s 20- and 30-somethings. Condemned to live with their parents, this generation find it almost impossible to raise the cash for a deposit on a home of their own. 

It’s been estimated that a 25-year-old currently needs to save around £800 a month and work until they are over 70 in order to achieve the average pension most older people currently enjoy. Of course, there are many pensioners coping on low incomes and who lost thousands in the financial meltdown, but a third of all home-owners are aged over 65 and have paid off their mortgages. 

I’m full of sympathy for one group: women who were born on or after April 1951. It seems grossly unfair that they will have to work for another six years in order  to qualify for a state pension. In February, our male-dominated House of Commons voted against making any changes to help them, which is shocking. But is it so insulting to point out that some pensioners have no debts?


Drama doesn’t have to be all murder, misery and menace

There’s no point in turning on the telly for light relief. The frothiest drama series on the box, Mr Selfridge, has tottered to an implausible conclusion. In recent weeks most of the quality drama involves unrelenting misery and grim-faced men and women. 

Happy Valley does not feature a single male character who is not creepy and everyone looks like they’ve drunk a pint of sick. Shetland, which has just concluded, featured lovely scenery and a male lead  with two expressions: dour and even more po-faced. Week after week, The Bridge featured an implausibly large number of sadistic ritual killings, with bodies sawn up and decapitated. 

On Saturdays, I’m reduced to yearning for Montalbano to return. At least the weather is good and the inspector eats some delicious lunches. Sadly, Mimi and co have been replaced by a load of unsmiling Icelandic actors in Trapped, where body parts vanish from the freezer and it’s permanently snowing.  


Sundays aren’t what they were – thank goodness

It’s regrettable that MPs chucked out proposals to extend Sunday opening hours by just 31 votes. The SNP opposed the changes – rather hypocritical of them, as extended Sunday trading in Scotland is left to individual councils to decide and workers are paid extra. 

Conservative MPs who claimed that they were “protecting family life” seem to be out of touch. Modern Sundays are a long way from the routine I endured as a child in the 1950s, when all the shops were shut and you were sent to Sunday school after lunch. 

These days, family-owned corner shops and mini-markets are open most of the day, there’s loads of live sport and church attendances have plummeted. 

By refusing to extend Sunday trading, MPs are enforcing their antiquated notion of how we should be spending the day. I doubt many of them do any supermarket shopping, anyway.