Ahead of a debate in Parliament on legalizing cannabis in the UK, the Liberal Democrats have announced a new independent panel to investigate how a legalized market could work.

The party, which was part of the last Coalition Government, say they want to examine evidence from Colorado, Washington State and Uruguay to see if lessons can be learned here.

Lib Dem Health Spokesman Norman Lamb, who was a leadership contender for the party earlier in the summer, made the announcement this morning.

He was clear that any moves towards legalization must be based on solid evidence and include adequate regulation to minimize any harm that cannabis could cause to health.

He said: "I share people’s concerns about the health impacts of any drug – legal or illegal.”

However, he said that it would be a better use of public money to target health education and regulating the market.

He pointed out that this approach was being used already on the sale of cigarettes and highlighted the fact that such a strategy had led to a dramatic reduction in smoking over recent years.

Cannabis has been legalized in three places and called on the supporters of prohibition to say why Britain should not follow the example of Colorado, Washington State and Uruguay.

He added that it was time to end the ‘hypocrisy’ of senior politicians admitting to using cannabis in earlier years, putting it down to “youthful indiscretions” while “condemning tens of thousands of their less fortunate fellow countrymen and women to criminal records for precisely the same thing, blighting their careers."

Prime Minister David Cameron has so far refused to answer questions on whether he has used the drug in the past.

However, a book published in 2007 claimed he had used it while a student at Eton. The recent book Call Me Dave also claimed he had used it while a student at Oxford.

The Lib Dems’ panel will be chaired by Steve Rolles (Transform Drug Policy) and will include Prof David Nutt (Founder of DrugScience), Tom Lloyd (a former Chief Constable in Cambridgeshire and Chair of the National Cannabis Coalition) and Niamh Eastwood (Executive Director of Release).

A spokesman said that where the drug had been legalized millions had been raised in taxes but violent crime had declined while youth use and traffic fatalities had remained stable.