Liberal Democrat leadership candidate Norman Lamb has described the war on drugs as a “catastrophic failure” and called on the government to legalize cannabis.
The MP for North Norfolk said thousands of people have died in the fight against illegal drugs, while many young people have been criminalized unnecessarily.
He said the UK should look to US states such as Colorado as an example for how to go about legalizing marijuana.
The former care minister’s comments come after the government’s ex-drug adviser, David Nutt, spoke out against the government’s proposals to ban so-called “legal highs.”
The Liberal Democrats have long supported liberalizing drug laws in the UK.
Lamb echoed the party’s general election manifesto in calling for the immediate legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes and the introduction of an evidence-based policy change for recreational use.
“There has been a catastrophic failure of the war on drugs, with thousands of lives lost,” he said.
Strict drug laws were “criminalizing so many young people, which blights their lives because of a decision about personal use which then affects their careers and creates a global criminal network,” he added.
Lamb spoke personally about the dangers of drugs from the point of view of parents.
“As a parent, I have real concerns about the dangers of drugs, both legal and illegal,” he said.
“But I think that it’s much better to take a rational, education-based approach rather than the approach that we take at the moment.”
Alaska became the third state in the US to decriminalize recreational use of marijuana in February, after a popular vote passed the measure with a narrow majority of two percent.
The state will join Colorado and Washington, both of which voted to legalize the drug in November 2012.
The changing tide in attitudes towards cannabis coincides with rising acknowledgement of the failure of the war on drugs.
According to the US-based Drugs Policy Alliance, the American government spends more than $51 billion a year on enforcing drug laws.
The organization states that 1.5 million people were arrested on nonviolent drug charges in the US in 2013.
In England and Wales, the government spends £2-4 billion each year fighting the war on drugs according to Transform.
The UK organization which campaigns for the legal regulation of drugs points to growing violence in Mexico as another example of the policy’s failure.
More than 100,000 people have died in drug war violence in Mexico since 2006, the organization states.
Lamb’s comments follow the introduction of legislation by the Home Office, which seeks to ban psychoactive substances.
The proposed legislation has been forcefully criticized by Professor David Nutt, who warned it would have a disastrous effect on medical research in the UK.
Nutt said it would effectively halt research into Parkinson’s disease and his own investigations into finding a safer alternative to alcohol.
Professor Nutt was sacked from his role as chief drug adviser in 2009, a day after he claimed ecstasy and LSD were less dangerous than alcohol.
This article was originally written and published by RT.