New evidence of Drug Discrimination in 2006

Summary:

 

In 2006 new evidence that the War on Drugs is actually a case of severe discrimination between those involved with equally harmful drugs was presented by a Parliamentary Select Committee, a statutory advisory committee and Government. This evidence provides overwhelming proof that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (MDA) is implemented with extreme discrimination, excluding those harmful drugs used by the majority of politicians and the voters who give them power, while imposing oppressive restrictions on those drugs used by minorities even if evidence indicates they are safer alternatives to the legally available drugs. Drug regulations and penalties are not applied equally and in proportion to the risks posed to individuals and society, as required by law, but are instead based on an unrecognised form of discrimination as severe as racism and sexism yet considerably more perverse due to its unconscious character and global social acceptance, including acceptance by international treaties.  

 

The new evidence:
 

1.   On July 31st 2006 the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee’s report Drug Classification: making a hash of it? [pdf, 1.23Mb] showed that some drugs classified as the most harmful, Class A, (psychedelic drugs) were less harmful than some drugs excluded from the MDA (alcohol and tobacco), contrary to the intention of the MDA:

(a) “The stated purpose of the classification system is to classify harmfulness so that the penalties for possession and trafficking are proportionate to the harm associated with a particular drug”. [para 78]

(b) “…a paper authored by experts including Professor Nutt, Chairman of the ACMD Technical Committee, which we have seen in draft form, found no statistically significant correlation between the Class of a drug and its harm score. … the paper asserted that “The current classification system has evolved in an unsystematic way from somewhat arbitrary foundations with seemingly little scientific basis”. The paper also found that the boundaries between the Classes were entirely arbitrary”. [para 96]

(c) “One of the most striking findings highlighted in the paper drafted by Professor Nutt and his colleagues was the fact that, on the basis of their assessment of harm, tobacco and alcohol would be ranked as more harmful than LSD and ecstasy (both Class A drugs)”. [para 106]

(d) “we have identified significant anomalies in the classification of individual drugs and a regrettable lack of consistency in the rationale used to make classification decisions. …we have concluded that the current classification system is not fit for purpose”. [Summary, p.3]

The “paper authored by experts including Professor Nutt, Chairman of the ACMD Technical Committee” appears as Appendix 14 of the Committee’s report and states:

(e) “Our findings raise questions about the validity of the current MDAct classification, despite the fact that this is nominally based on an assessment of risk to users and society. This is especially true in relation to psychedelic type drugs. They also emphasise that the exclusion of alcohol and tobacco from the MDAct is, from a scientific perspective, arbitrary”. [Ev 116, 5th para]

(f) “Our findings reveal no clear distinction between socially accepted and illicit substances”. [Ev 116, Conclusions]

 

2.    On September 14th 2006 the report Pathways to Problems [pdf, 2.3Mb] from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs   (ACMD), the independent group of scientists with a legal duty under the MDA to advise Government about drug risks and options for regulations, stated that there is no objective justification for the different regulations for legal and illegal non-medical drugs and medical drugs:

(a) “We believe that policy-makers and the public need to be better informed of the essential similarity in the way in which psychoactive drugs work: acting on specific parts of the brain to produce pleasurable and sought-after effects but with the potential to establish long-lasting changes in the brain, manifested as dependence and other damaging physical and behavioural side-effects. At present, the legal framework for the regulation and control of drugs clearly distinguishes between drugs such as tobacco and alcohol and various other drugs which can be bought and sold legally (subject to various regulations), drugs which are covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) and drugs which are classed as medicines, some of which are also covered by the Act. The insights summarised in this chapter indicate that these distinctions are based on historical and cultural factors and lack a consistent and objective basis”. [Para 1.13]

The ACMD concluded that alcohol and tobacco do fall within the scope of the MDA and that an integrated approach was required:

(b) “As their actions are similar and their harmfulness to individuals and society is no less than that of other psychoactive drugs, tobacco and alcohol should be explicitly included within the terms of reference of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs”. [Recommendation 1]

(c) “A fully integrated approach should be taken to the development of policies designed to prevent the hazardous use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs”. [Recommendation 11]

 

3. On October 13th 2006 the Government’s reply to the Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee’s report [pdf, 419Kb] claimed two factors justify the discrimination between legal and illegal drugs even though legal drugs cause most harm  – (a) the historical/cultural factors mentioned by the ACMD and (b) the unacceptability of prohibition of responsible drug use:

“The distinction between legal and illegal substances is not unequivocally based on pharmacology, economic or risk benefit analysis. It is also based in large part on historical and cultural precedents. A classification system that applies to legal as well as illegal substances would be unacceptable to the vast majority of people who use, for example alcohol, responsibly and would conflict with deeply embedded historical tradition and tolerance of consumption of a number of substances that alter mental functioning (ranging from caffeine to alcohol and tobacco). … the Government acknowledges that alcohol and tobacco account for more health problems and deaths than illicit drugs…” [reply to Recommendation 50]

(a) Historical/cultural factors cannot justify discrimination:

(i) The justification on the grounds of “historical and cultural precedents” and “cultural preference” [reply to Recommendation 31] is not a justification but merely a description of unjustifiable cultural discrimination, equally applicable to describing sexism and racism. It amounts to saying “it happened and we want it to continue happening”. “Cultural preference” refers only to the preference of the majority, ignoring the preferences of minorities. The UK is now a multicultural society that values equality and the tolerance of diversity. Currently the MDA unjustifiably discriminates between those involved with equally harmful drugs.

(ii) The United Nations’s 1997 The Regulation - Legalization debate [pdf, 194Kb] suggests that such a justification is unsustainable:
“The discussion of regulation has inevitably brought alcohol and tobacco into the heart of the debate and highlighted an apparent inconsistency whereby use of some dependence creating drugs is legal and of others is illegal. The cultural and historical justifications offered for this separation may not be credible to the principal targets of today’s anti-drug messages – the young. If it is accepted that education and prevention are the most effective, long-term strategies against drug abuse, then planning a drug control regime for the next century should tackle this problem and its implications for both the developing and the developed world”. [p.198]

 

(iii) All children in the UK are taught that alcohol and tobacco are harmful drugs, in accordance with the United Nations’ definition of ‘drugs’ [Drugs: Guidance to Schools, 2004, para 1.3]. The Government's Updated Drug Strategy 2002 [pdf, 4.61Mb] explains why young people are likely to ignore drug laws that are based on cultural tradition and fail to “accurately reflect the relative harms of different drugs”:
“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”. [p.22]

(b) Prohibition of responsible drug use is unacceptable:

(i) The unacceptability of prohibition of responsible use is the second factor Government uses to justify discrimination between those involved with equally harmful drugs. However this factor does not distinguish the two groups. The 2002 Home Affairs Committee report The Government’s Drug Policy: is it working? stated:
“While around four million people use illicit drugs each year, most of those people do not appear to experience harm from their drug use, nor do they cause harm to others as a result of their habit”. [Para 20]

 

(ii) The unacceptability of prohibition of responsible drug use is the very reason why 10% of citizens do not comply with the blanket prohibition of illegal drugs. To be credible, drug laws must also accurately reflect the relative harms of different patterns of drug use, as they do with legal drugs. Currently the MDA fails to justifiably discriminate between those who use or trade drugs reasonably safely, responsibly and those who use or trade drugs unreasonably harmfully, irresponsibly.

 

Conclusion:

 

4. Suppliers and producers of drugs excluded from the Act are permitted to profit from their activities. In contrast suppliers and producers of drugs controlled by the Act may receive a penalty of life imprisonment, even when objective evidence shows those drugs to be very significantly less harmful. Prohibition of safer alternatives to legally available drugs cannot be a public-interest aim of the Act.

 

5. Since 1971 drug discrimination has caused immense harm to society. Under-regulation of legal drugs has contributed to over a million deaths in the UK from alcohol and tobacco while the attempted over-regulation of illegal drugs has contributed to the imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens and to the growth of an unregulated black market.
Strict licensing of all drugs used non-medically would significantly reduce the risks from both groups of drugs.

 

6. Currently the MDA is implemented unequally, contrary to the Human Rights Act:

(a) The MDA unjustifiably discriminates between those involved with equally harmful drugs.

(b) The MDA fails to justifiably discriminate between those who use or trade drugs reasonably safely, responsibly and those who use or trade drugs unreasonably harmfully, irresponsibly.