DAVID Cameron will be urged by MPs today to start a wide-ranging public debate on drug policy, including the possibility of legalisation.
The Commons home affairs committee is to say current strategies are not working and will call on the Prime Minister to establish a royal commission to look at all the alternatives.
Following a year-long inquiry, the committee has concluded that efforts to combat the drug barons have failed, while there is not enough focus on helping users to break their habits.
The committee says ministers could learn from the experience of Portugal, where drugs have been “depenalised” – with possession of small amounts not subject to criminal penalties, even though they remain illegal.
The MPs are also urging the government to fund studies of changes in Washington and Colorado in the United States – where cannabis is being legalised – and Uruguay, where a state monopoly of cannabis production and sale is being proposed.
Ten years after a committee last looked at the issue, it says change is now urgent and that a royal commission should be set up immediately so it could report back by 2015, when the next general election is due.
In other recommendations, the committee is calling for the prosecution of senior officials in banks responsible for laundering the profits of drugs gangs and for better drugs education in schools.
However, mental health campaigners warned it was vital not to ignore the links between cannabis use and psychotic illness. The committee is to say: “We were impressed by what we saw of the Portuguese depenalised system. It had clearly reduced public concern about drug use, and was supported by all political parties and the police.
“Although it is not certain that the Portuguese experience could be replicated in the UK, given societal differences, we believe this is a model that merits significantly closer consideration.”
At the same time, the committee is highly critical of the government’s failure to hit the profits of the drugs gangs.
The MPs also say the law should also be amended so that retailers who sell untested “legal highs” can be held liable for any harm the products cause .
“It is unacceptable that retailers should be able to use false descriptions and disclaimers such as ‘plant food’ and ‘not for human consumption’ as a defence where it is clear to all concerned that the substance is being sold for its psychoactive properties,” it said.
The committee will express concern the creation of elected police commissioners could lead to local variations in the approach to drugs, resulting in a “geographical displacement” of the trade.