The Liberal Democrats are backing a new report calling for the legalised sale of marijuana through licensed outlets, including “cannabis social clubs”.

Criminalising cannabis use is a waste of police time, they say, and increases health risks by leaving many people in the dark about what they are taking.

The party is calling for a “regulated market” to control the pricing, potency and packaging of sales to over-18s.

The Conservatives rejected Lib Dem calls to review drug laws in coalition.

The Lib Dems’ attempts to put the issue on the political agenda while in government were rebuffed by Home Secretary Theresa May, who argued existing laws were proving successful in reducing drug use and the harm associated with it.

Cannabis is currently classified as a Class B drug, with possession carrying a maximum sentence of five years in jail or an unlimited fine. Those supplying or producing cannabis face tougher penalties, with up to a maximum of 14 years in jail.

‘Untold harm’

But the Lib Dems say the existing “war on drugs” has failed, diverting police resources away from tackling organised crime and that people using cannabis should not be “saddled with criminal convictions” for the rest of their lives.

The party has endorsed a new study, written by an independent panel of advisers, which calls for:

  • The sale of cannabis to over-18s to be legalised
  • Specialist, licensed stores to be set up, including “single purpose” outlets modelled on pharmacies
  • Cannabis to be available over the counter in plain packaging, containing health warnings
  • Home cultivation of cannabis to be allowed for personal use
  • Small scale cannabis clubs to be licensed
  • A new regulator to be set up to oversee the market

The report, whose authors include the government’s former chief drugs adviser Sir David Nutt and Mike Barton, the Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary, argues that cannabis should be taxed according to its strength and that doing so could yield up to £1bn a year for the Exchequer.

It claims the health risks associated with cannabis use can be more effectively managed and minimised by through a “responsibly regulated market and public health interventions rather than an unregulated criminal market and punitive criminal justice response”.

The Lib Dems will decide whether to adopt the proposals as party policy at its Spring Conference this weekend.