Response to the Committee on Standards in Public Life's consultation

Getting the Balance Right: Implementing Standards of Conduct in Public Life

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The Committee on Standards in Public Life want to find out if implementation & enforcement of Codes of Conduct/Practise is adequate, too much of a burden or too little (i.e. is it 'proportionate'?). They want to examine problems of 'organisational culture' distorting policy making - prejudice & bias.
Background:
http://www.public-standards.gov.uk/consultations/index.htm
Consultation document:
http://www.public-standards.gov.uk/reports/10threport/consultationpaper.doc

Our response concerns the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs .....

I write as co-ordinator of a small voluntary organisation that has had great difficulty in obtaining information from a statutory non-executive Non Departmental Public Body, a scientific advisory committee. I focus on issues of objectivity, openness, accountability and proportionality. These issues may have a serious impact on public health. I am happy for my response to be published.

1. Summary:

1.1 The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has a statutory duty under the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) to provide Government with risk analysis and proportionate regulatory advice with respect to harmful drug use [1].
1.2 The ACMD has not provided Government with appropriate risk analysis about the harmful use of the traditional drugs alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. The ACMD has not provided any proportionate regulatory advice concerning these drugs.
1.3 Consequent to 1.2, drugs policy is not integrated. The Home Affairs Select Committee Third Report The Government’s Drugs Policy: Is it Working? said "Substance misuse is a continuum perhaps artificially divided into legal and illegal activity" [2].
1.4 The ACMD often, though not consistently, use the word ‘drugs’ to refer to illegal drugs only, contradicting the use of the word ‘drugs’ in the MDA. Section 2 of the MDA refers to illegal drugs as ‘controlled drugs’, a specific subset of the ‘drugs’ that the ACMD have a duty to advise about in Section 1 [1].
1.5 The ACMD’s inconsistent use of the word ‘drugs’ is followed by the Home Office and Government. The latter’s drug education website says "drugs are illegal" but then states that "tobacco comes from the leaves of the tobacco plant. It contains a drug called nicotine which is highly addictive" and "alcohol can play a major part in many people's social lives. That's why it's easy to forget that it's actually a very powerful drug" [3].
1.6 Children are taught at school that alcohol and tobacco are drugs [4], in accordance with the definition of the United Nations [5]. Home Office guidance says "we need to continue referring to alcohol, tobacco and caffeine as drugs" [6].
1.7 The ACMD Secretariat has now told me "there is no definition of ‘drugs’ within the MDA 1971. Whilst it can be argued that the ACMD has a remit to consider alcohol, tobacco and caffeine it has, to date, declined to do so. The ACMD consider that its resources are best served by focussing on controlled drugs or drugs likely to be controlled by the MDA 1971. Albeit independent, the ACMD as an advisory body has to be aware of the Government’s position, which has not given any intention to consider the control of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine" [7].
1.8 This last sentence suggests that the ACMD may have a conflict of interest that threatens the independence of their scientific advice. The conflict is between their statutory duty to provide independent advice about the harmful use of all drugs and the Government’s wish that alcohol and tobacco should not be classified as drugs in the MDA. These two traditional drugs cause a fifth of all deaths but ninety percent of voters consume them and Government receives 20 billion a year in taxation from their trade. Caroline Flint, Home Office drugs minister, has told me "alcohol, tobacco and caffeine will not be considered by the ACMD for control" [8]. This conflict of interest may affect the ACMD’s implementation of the Code of Practise for Scientific Committees which applies to them [9].
1.9 Conclusions:
(i) Greater implementation and independent scrutiny of Codes of Conduct is needed for some NDPBs.
(ii) Public bodies with a remit to provide regulatory advice proportionate to risk may have an organisational culture that exaggerates unfamiliar or non-traditional risks and minimises familiar or traditional risks. This may result in inconsistent and disproportionate regulatory advice.
(iii) Implementation and enforcement of Codes should not be proportionate to the current size and resources of a public body as these factors themselves may be determined by problematic organisational culture. Code enforcement should be proportionate more directly to the risk of a public body providing inadequate advice, perhaps through lack of resources, and the consequent risks to policy making from such inadequate advice.

2. Management of Codes of Conduct:

The Code of Practise for Scientific Committees [10]:

2.1 ACMD’s remit and objectivity:

Paragraph 11: "It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that a committee’s remit is clear, and it is the committee’s responsibility to raise concerns if they believe there are ambiguities. As a general principle any required clarification of a committee’s role should take place before a committee begins its work".
Under the MDA the ACMD has a statutory duty "to keep under review the situation in the United Kingdom with respect to drugs which are being or appear to them likely to be misused and of which the misuse is having or appears to them capable of having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem"[1]. Their duty includes the provision of "advice on measures (whether or not involving alteration of the law) which in the opinion of the Council ought to be taken for preventing the misuse of such drugs or dealing with social problems connected with their misuse" [1].
As noted above (1.2) the ACMD do not provide adequate risk analysis or any proportionate regulatory advice to Government about the harmful use of the traditional drugs alcohol, tobacco and caffeine.
It is scientific fact that these traditional substances are drugs. The following definitions support this view. The United Nations definition of ‘drugs’ suggests that familiarity may make this fact difficult to appreciate.

  • United Nations:
    "What are drugs? A very basic question but one that needs to be clarified. For, if we start thinking of drugs as just the substances that cause problems or are abused by people we know, then we are likely to ignore other substances that, for one reason or another, are not thought of as drugs by our immediate communities. A psychoactive substance is any substance people take to change either the way they feel, think, or behave. This description covers alcohol and tobacco as well as other natural and manufactured drugs" [5].
  • Home Office guidance: "In the interests of encouraging rational debate and combating knee-jerk prejudice, we need to continue referring to alcohol, tobacco and caffeine as drugs" [6].
  • Department for Education and Skills, Drugs: Guidance for Schools:
    " The definition of a drug given by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is: ‘a substance people take to change the way they feel, think or behave’. The term ‘drugs’ and ‘drug education’, unless otherwise stated, is used throughout this document to refer to all drugs: all illegal drugs (those controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971), all legal drugs, including alcohol, tobacco" [4].
  • Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs Secretariat: "it can be argued that the ACMD has a remit to consider alcohol, tobacco and caffeine" [7].

The Home Office Risk Framework gives no suggestion that a distinction should be made between traditional and non-traditional dangerous drugs. It lists among its aims: "to deliver the Department’s policies and responsibilities fairly, effectively and efficiently" and "to reduce the availability and abuse of dangerous drugs" [11].
There is no obvious reason why the ACMD has failed to provide regulatory advice about the harmful use of traditional drugs. The ACMD has not provided any explanation for the omission of this advice.

2.2 Openness and Transparency:

Para. 46. "Committees should operate from a presumption of openness. The proceedings of the committee should be as open as is compatible with the requirements of confidentiality. The committee should maintain high levels of transparency during routine business".
Para. 68. "Committees should abide by the principles contained in the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information".
The Code of Practise on Access to Government Information says "the target for response to simple requests for information is 20 working days".
Para. 85. "In order to help provide a full appreciation of its advice and decisions, the committee should, where appropriate, facilitate public access to documents or information that have contributed to the formulation of its advice. This would enable third parties to better understand the conclusions reached and decisions taken".
Para. 91. "Committees should develop a policy for the communication of their work to the public and other interested parties and for receiving feedback".

  • On 22 January 2003 I wrote to Chris Saint, ACMD secretary, asking "Is there anything preventing the ACMD from considering the dangerousness of tobacco or alcohol?". I have had no reply.
  • On 22 June 2003 I wrote again to Mr Saint [12] saying "We are very concerned that the ACMD's recent report Hidden Harm - Responding to the needs of children of problem drug users [13] is seriously misleading due to a very simple error. The word 'drug' in this report is used to mean 'controlled drug' only but there is no mention of this unusual and inaccurate definition. The report aims to assess the number of children in the UK effected by parental problem drug use and concludes that "there are between 200,000 and 300,000 children in England and Wales where one or both parents have serious drug problems" and that "Problem drug use in the UK is characterised by the use of multiple drugs, often by injection". These statements are untrue. They are only true in reference to the use of controlled drugs and do not include the two drugs that cause the greatest harm, alcohol and tobacco. The report does admit that legal drugs cause significantly more harm than controlled drugs in one paragraph of this 92 page report but then says "it was decided that it was beyond the scope of the Inquiry to do justice to these two major topics" [13]. Instead the report does no justice to these two major topics, omitting their statistics in the summary without comment. It continues: "Our main focus is therefore on problem drug use, with the impact of alcohol or tobacco being considered as additional factors". Again this wrongly implies that alcohol and tobacco are not drugs. This report about parental drug use harmful to children aims to establish "the size and seriousness of the problem" yet omits the two greatest causes, alcohol and tobacco, and so provides a distorted view of the problem. Anyone reading the front cover or summary would have no clue that parental use of legal drugs causes far more harm to children than use of controlled drugs - a vital piece of information".
    Paul Flynn MP wrote to the Home Office in support of these serious concerns. Again neither of us have had a reply.
  • On 24th January 2004 I received a letter from Saleah Ahmed of the ACMD Secretariat in response to my letter of 5th December to Caroline Flint at the Home Office. Ms Ahmed’s letter explained that there is no definition of ‘drugs’ in the MDA, that legal drugs could fall under the ACMD’s remit but, though independent, the ACMD do take account of the wishes of Government when giving their advice [7]. I replied on 29th January 2004 asking "I’m trying to find out details about how the ACMD define the word ‘drugs’, how they therefore determine the scope of their remit and what role Government plays in these decisions. Are there any documents relating to these questions that you could send me?" By April 5th I had not received a reply.

2.3 Independence and objectivity:

Para. 76. "A committee’s advice should be in writing, and should be seen as independent of government".
A Home Office press release describes the ACMD as "an independent expert committee that advises the Government on drug classifications" [14].
The letter of 24th January 2004 from Saleah Ahmed of the ACMD Secretariat said "Albeit independent, the ACMD as an advisory body has to be aware of the Government’s position, which has not given any intention to consider the control of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine" [7].
Caroline Flint, Home Office drugs minister, has written to me suggesting that the Home Office imposes limitations on the ACMD’s independence. She said "alcohol, tobacco and caffeine will not be considered by the ACMD for control" [8].
The MDA does allow the Government to ignore the advice of the ACMD when determining which drugs should be controlled under section 2 of the MDA so there seems little justification for limiting the ACMD’s statutory remit.

3. Enforcement of Codes of Conduct and Organisational Culture:

3.1 The Home Office is responsible for good governance of their public bodies but misleading replies from them leave me with little faith in their organisational culture and ability to tackle enforcement of the ACMD’s Code of Practise.

3.2 The consultation document says organisational culture "concerns the basic assumptions and beliefs that are learned, shared, and often taken for granted in an organisation" (Consultation document 2.13).

3.2.1 Assumptions and beliefs that discriminate between familiar and unfamiliar risks, minimising the former and maximising the latter, underlie the problematic organisational culture of the Home Office and ACMD. This biased risk assessment leads to proportionately biased regulations - the over-regulation of non-traditional drugs (prohibition) and under-regulation of traditional drugs. The United Nations’ definition of ‘drugs’ warns of the risk of focusing only on non-traditional drugs and ignoring traditional ones. It says "if we start thinking of drugs as just the substances that cause problems or are abused by people we know, then we are likely to ignore other substances that, for one reason or another, are not thought of as drugs by our immediate communities" [5]. It goes on to note that alcohol and tobacco are psychoactive drugs. The Government’s drug education website also warns of this bias saying "alcohol can play a major part in many people's social lives. That's why it's easy to forget that it's actually a very powerful drug" [3]. There is considerable evidence that risk perception is effected by familiarity. The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology leaflet Safety in Numbers describes factors affecting risk perception saying "Familiarity – People appear to be more willing to accept risks that are familiar rather than new risks" [15]. This is also reflected in common speech by phrases such as "familiarity breeds contempt" and "better the devil you know".

3.2.2 The Home Office has confirmed that Government drug policies and drug laws do not discriminate between dangerous and less dangerous drugs as is often implied but instead discriminate between non-traditional and traditional drugs. Adult consumers of dangerous drugs have a right to make informed choices and the prohibition of dangerous drugs is not practical and would increase crime - but these policies only apply to traditional drugs.

  • Bob Ainsworth’s letter said tobacco "smoking is the greatest single cause of preventable illness and premature death in the UK, and is responsible for around 120,000 deaths every year. However because the habit has a four hundred-year history of social acceptance in the Western world, the Government cannot simply ban it. The Government believes that adults are entitled to make an informed choice and therefore ensures that full information on the dangers of tobacco are freely available" [16].
  • Caroline Flint’s letter said "owing to the wide use of these substances over a long period of history in modern society and the general social acceptance that has resulted, it [prohibition] is not a realistic or practical option. To criminalise the supply and use of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine would inevitably result in widespread smuggling, law breaking and other associated criminal activity" [8].

3.2.3 My conclusion is that the organisational culture described is unjustly discriminatory. It shares the same fundamental characteristic as sex, race and disability discrimination. Unjust discrimination seems to be founded on prejudice by the traditional majority against non-traditional minorities. The pre-judgement made is that the non-traditional is more harmful than the traditional. Non-traditional minorities are then over-regulated (either consciously or unconsciously), denied equal opportunity, instead being socially excluded. The traditional majority benefits from under-regulation as regulations are focused on the minorities. The discrimination is justified on the basis of harm with no acceptance that the discrimination is actually merely between the traditional and non-traditional. This may be a common factor in many cases of organisational culture resistant to change (e.g. resistance to Code of Conduct implementation).

3.3 The consultation document also notes "the persuasive power of organisational culture to deflect attention from standards issues" (Consultation document 2.14).

3.3.1 I asked the Home Office what is the definition of ‘drugs’ in the MDA 1971 and why are the drugs alcohol and tobacco not included in the MDA. Replies were inaccurate and misleading.

  • Bob Ainsworth’s reply of 21 January 2003 stated "the ‘drugs of misuse’ controlled under the 1971 Act are determined under United Nations Conventions" [16]. This is not accurate as confirmed by Caroline Flint’s letter. She said "the UK is also free to act independently outside of this international legal framework and the ACMD can advise the Government on drugs that it feels require control under the MDA 1971" [8].
  • On 27th November 2003 Caroline Flint replied to my letter of 23rd October. She said "The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (MDA 1971) refers to only controlled drugs, that is to say any ‘substances or product for the time being specified in Part I, II or III of schedule 2 of this Act’. As Alcohol, caffeine and tobacco are not controlled drugs, they do not fall under the remit of the MDA 1971". This is not accurate since section 1 of the MDA refers to all harmful drugs, not only controlled drugs. She also said that "alcohol, caffeine and tobacco do fall under the UN’s definition of drugs" but concluded "The ACMD is an independent non-departmental public body established under the MDA 1971 for the purpose of advising the Government on drug related issues. It therefore does not have an obligation to provide advice to the Government on how to tackle harm brought on by misuse of alcohol, tobacco or caffeine" [8].

3.3.2 Again these replies show the confusion of ‘drugs’ with ‘controlled drugs’ and the contradictory and misleading statements that follow such confusion. These statements, and the attitudes underlying them, seem to deflect attention from the issues of objectivity, openness and accountability.

3.4 Independent scrutiny:
On 12th March 2003 I e-mailed the Parliamentary Ombudsman asking "Can you investigate complaints against the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs? If not, who can?". I received a reply from Rachael Hodson on 17th March saying that the Parliamentary Ombudsman has no power to investigate the ACMD and that she was "unaware of any other body with whom you could pursue your complaint".
No independent scrutiny of the ACMD seems possible.

4. Proportionality: "enforcement regimes should be proportionate to risk" [Better Regulation Task Force]

4.1 Proportionality of Code implementation and enforcement to size of public bodies:
Proportionality should not only be based upon the current size and resources of a public body as these factors themselves may be determined by problematic organisational culture. Proportionality should more directly take into account the risk of that public body providing inadequate advice, perhaps through lack of resources, and the consequent risks to policy making from such inadequate advice.

4.2 The risk to policy making from the ACMD’s inappropriate drug risk and regulatory advice:

4.2.1 The Better Regulation Task Force’s Principles of Good Regulation mentions 5 principles:
Accountability, Transparency, Consistency, Proportionality, Targeting [17].

4.2.2 Accountability: "Regulators must be able to justify decisions, and be subject to public scrutiny"
It is not clear who is responsible for the exclusion of traditional drugs from the MDA. Section 1 of the MDA suggests the ACMD is the primary source of scientific drug risk analysis and proportionate regulatory advice upon which Government drugs policy is based (2.1 above). However the independence of their scientific advice seems to be compromised by unjustified restrictions imposed by their sponsoring Department, restrictions that seem to require the ‘independent’ advice to conform to Government policy (2.3 above).

4.2.3 Transparency: "Regulators should be open, and keep regulations simple and user-friendly"
The ACMD have provided no explanation for the exclusion of traditional drugs from their advice, nor any explanation why they use the word ‘drugs’ to refer only to controlled drugs, contradicting the use of the word in the MDA and implying that the traditional drugs alcohol and tobacco are not drugs (2.2 above).

4.2.4 Consistency: "Regulators should be consistent with each other, and work together in a joined-up way"
The regulatory advice the ACMD provide about non-traditional drugs is not consistent with traditional drug regulations. Traditional drug consumption, trade and production is regulated to allow taxation to pay for all drug-related services. Non-traditional drug consumption, trade and production is prohibited resulting in the demand being met by the unregulated black market allowing all drug profits to go to organised crime. The ACMD’s targeting and proportionality of legislation to risk is inconsistent with that of traditional drugs legislation.

4.2.5 Targeting: "Regulation should be focused on the problem, and minimise side effects"
The regulatory advice the ACMD provide about non-traditional drugs is not targeted at harmful drug consumption, trade and production. Instead it targets all non-traditional drug consumption, trade and production. A side effect is increasing non-compliance and an increasing black market which can not be regulated to allow taxation or to provide consumer protection.

4.2.6 Proportionality: "Regulators should only intervene when necessary. Remedies should be appropriate to the risk posed" "Enforcers should consider an educational, rather than a punitive approach where possible"

  1. The ACMD have not explained the necessity of legislating against all use of non-traditional drugs instead of only harmful use.
  2. The ACMD do not distinguish between two distinct forms of harm: harm to others and self-harm. When a risk of harm is imposed on another, legislation is the appropriate intervention to protect citizens. This includes harm caused by consumers to the public (drink-driving, alcohol-induced violence, passive smoking and fire risk), by suppliers to the public (advertising and supply to minors) or by producers to consumers (lack of quality/quantity control or harm warnings). Self-harm occurs when a person imposes a risk of harm upon themselves. The creator of the risk suffers the consequent harm. It is a health issue and education is the appropriate intervention. Government health policy is to encourage individual responsibility through informed choice. The Department of Health's Saving lives: Our Healthier Nation says "it is the role of the Government to provide information about risk. But in most cases it is for the individual to decide whether to take the risk. As long as people are aware of the risk which they are taking, it is their decision whether to put themselves at risk" [18]. The World Health Organisation warns of inappropriately targeting legislation against self-harm saying "people with substance dependence are among the most marginalized in societies and are in need of treatment and care. To incarcerate offenders for drug use and dependence is not an effective prevention or treatment strategy" [19].
  3. The regulatory advice the ACMD provide about harmful drug use is not proportionate to their risk analysis. The ACMD has said that tobacco "smoking kills about 120,000 people each year, and between 28,000 and 33,000 people die annually as a result of alcohol" [20] but they have not advised that alcohol and tobacco should be classified under the MDA. The ACMD has said "the high use of cannabis is not associated with major health problems for the individual or society" [21] but they have not advised that cannabis should be excluded from the MDA. The ACMD justify the reclassification of cannabis as a Class C drug on the basis of proportionality since cannabis is less harmful than other Class B drugs yet their evidence suggests that cannabis is also less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. Their report The Classification of Cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 compares the specific risks of cannabis use with those of alcohol and tobacco use, confirming the view that cannabis appears to be a safer alternative to these legal drugs [Appendix & Ref 21]. The Government's Updated Drugs Strategy 2002 describes the risk to public compliance of disproportionate drug laws saying "it is vital that the Government's message to young people is open, honest and credible. Drug laws must accurately reflect the relative harms of different drugs if they are to persuade young people in particular of the dangers of misusing drugs" [22].

4.3 Like the ACMD the World Health Organisation has a duty to provide risk analysis and proportionate regulatory advice in relation to harmful drugs. WHO cover both traditional and non-traditional drugs irrespective of their legal status. Their drug risk analysis shows that tobacco use is 7 times more prevalent than illegal drug use but causes 22 times as many deaths [23]. This suggests that the risk of death from tobacco use is 3 times greater than the risk of death from illegal drug use. This indicates that traditional and non-traditional drug regulations are not proportionate to risk.

4.4 The ACMD’s failure to refer to traditional drugs as ‘drugs’ results in the term ‘substance misuse’ being used for integrated drugs policies (e.g. by the Department of Health) instead of this term being used more properly to refer also to excessive or inappropriate food consumption that risks leading to obesity. Food is clearly a substance just as alcohol and tobacco are clearly drugs. Food and drugs may both be consumed to relieve stress. Those suffering from excessive stress are most likely to consume either substance excessively leading to dependency. Stresses in both cases are often both internal (psychological) and external (environmental). Dieters have a similar relapse rate to traditional and non-traditional drug users attempting to break their dependency. Dependency and consequent harmful consumption of food and drugs should be researched, tackled and communicated to the public in an integrated way but the ACMD’s inappropriate terminology prevents this.

5. Recommendations:

5.1 Greater implementation and independent scrutiny of Codes of Conduct is needed for some public bodies. An independent Commissioner for Public Conduct, equivalent to the Commissioner for Public Appointments, would be appropriate for similar reasons.

5.2 Code implementation, enforcement and independent scrutiny should be proportionate to the risk of that public body providing inadequate advice, perhaps through lack of resources, and the consequent risks to policy making from such inadequate advice.

5.3 The ACMD should be reviewed using the ‘Guidance for reviewing NDPBs’ [24], applicable to small advisory NDPBs. The review should examine the ACMD’s statutory remit with respect to the traditional drugs alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. It should also examine the consistency of the ACMD’s regulatory advice with Government’s modernisation program, particularly the Better Regulation Task Force’s Principles of Good Regulation and ILGRA’s Risk Communication: A Guide to Regulatory Practise.

 

Appendix: ACMD - Cannabis harm compared to alcohol and tobacco harm

Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs - The classification of cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 [Ref 21]

4.3.5 Unlike sedative intoxicants such as alcohol, cannabis does not cause respiratory depression or suppress the gag reflex even when extremely intoxicated.
4.3.6 Cannabis differs from alcohol, however, in one major respect: it seems not to increase risk-taking behaviour. This may explain why it appears to play a smaller role than alcohol in road traffic accidents. … cannabis rarely contributes to violence either to others or to oneself, whereas alcohol use is a major factor in deliberate self-harm, domestic accidents and violence.
4.4.1 In general cannabis users smoke fewer cigarettes per day than tobacco smokers and most give up in their 30s, so limiting the long-term exposure that we now know is the critical factor in cigarette-induced lung cancer.
4.4.5 It is possible to rank the risks of dependence of abused drugs with heroin and crack cocaine the worst and cannabis generally at, or near, the bottom (and well below nicotine and alcohol).
4.5.1 Tobacco smoking and alcohol use are significant causes of harm to the unborn child. Cannabis may also increase the risk of minor birth defects and abortion but the effect is small.
4.5.2 There is some evidence that smoking cannabis during pregnancy may produce subtle alterations in neuropsychological performance of the child that persists into later life. This effect is similar to that of tobacco smoking and may be due to the actions of tobacco smoke rather than to cannabis per se.
4.5.3 Taken together this data suggest that cannabis use in pregnancy is not safe but that it is probably no more dangerous to the foetus than either alcohol or tobacco.
4.6.3 Interestingly, other studies have found that the use of alcohol and tobacco in early teens (and especially in pre-adolescents) appears to be associated with the later use of many drugs including cannabis.
4.6.4 Despite all these caveats, it is likely that cannabis use (and that of alcohol or tobacco) has an effect on later Class A drug use.
4.7.1 Cannabis appears not to make as major a contribution to road traffic or other accidents as alcohol.

5.1 The high use of cannabis is not associated with major health problems for the individual or society.
5.2 The occasional use of cannabis is only rarely associated with significant problems in otherwise healthy individuals. These harmful effects of cannabis, however, are very substantially less than those associated with similar use of other drugs, such as amphetamines, which (like cannabis) are currently classified as Class B.
5.4 Regular heavy use of cannabis can result in dependence, but its dependence potential is substantially less than that of other Class B drugs such as amphetamines or, indeed, that of tobacco or alcohol.
5.5 It is not possible to state, with certainty, whether or not cannabis use predisposes to dependence on Class A drugs such as heroin or crack cocaine. Nevertheless the risks (if any) are small and less than those associated with the use of tobacco or alcohol.

6.1 Cannabis is not a harmless substance and its use unquestionably poses risks both to individual health and to society.
6.2 Cannabis, however, is less harmful than other substances (amphetamines, barbiturates, codeine-like compounds) within Class B of Schedule 2 to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The continuing juxtaposition of cannabis with these more harmful Class B drugs erroneously (and dangerously) suggests that their harmful effects are equivalent. This may lead to the belief, amongst cannabis users, that if they have had no harmful effects from cannabis then other Class B substances will be equally safe.
6.3 The Council therefore recommends the reclassification of all cannabis preparations to Class C under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

 

References:

  1. Home Office webpage, Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs – statutory remit.
  2. Home Affairs Select Committee Third Report The Government’s Drugs Policy: Is it Working? – introduction, paragraph 10.
  3. Government/Home Office drug education website, Talk to Frank.
    3.1
    "drugs are illegal".
    3.2
    nicotine is a drug.
    3.3
    alcohol is a drug.
  4. Department for Education and Skills, Drugs: Guidance for schools – 1.3 Terminology
  5. United Nations, A Participatory Handbook for Youth Drug Abuse Prevention Programmes - Chap 2, page 1.
  6. Home Office guidance, Lets Get Real: Communicating with the public about drugs – page 40.
  7. Personal correspondence from ACMD Secretariat.
  8. Personal correspondence from Home Office, Caroline Flint
  9. ACMD and Code of Practise for Scientific Committees.
  10. Code of Practise for Scientific Committees.
  11. Home Office Risk Framework, Annex B, 2
  12. Personal communication to ACMD Secretariat, Chris Saint
  13. Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs report Hidden Harm - Responding to the needs of children of problem drug users – Introduction, page 7
  14. Home Office press release
  15. Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology leaflet Safety in Numbers, page 2
  16. Personal correspondence from Home Office, Bob Ainsworth.
  17. Better Regulation Task Force, Principles of Good Regulation
  18. The Department of Health's Saving lives: Our Healthier Nation, paragraph 3.25
  19. World Health Organisation, What do people think they know about substance dependence? – page 8.
  20. Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs report Reducing Drug Related Deaths – paragraph 1.12
  21. Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs report The Classification of Cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, paragraph 5.1
  22. The Government's Updated Drugs Strategy 2002 – page 22, Reclassification of Cannabis
  23. World Health Organisation webpage – The Global Burden
  24. Guidance for reviewing NDPBs