Report quotes

 

 

1968: Hallucinogens Sub-committee of the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence, The Wootton report: http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/library/studies/wootton/sec5.htm

 

61. Cannabis is often described as an "intoxicant" and frequently compared with alcohol. Both produce relaxation and euphoria; both, taken in excess, impair judgment, speed of reaction, and co-ordination. Cannabis more readily distorts perception of time and space. Unlike alcohol, cannabis is not known to enhance the effects of certain other drugs, induce a limited degree of tolerance or, over the long term, cause physical damage to body tissues directly or by dietary deficiency. Cannabis may well, however, be at least as dangerous as alcohol as an influence on driving or other responsible activity. This sharpness of similarity and contrast is considerably blurred by the effects of very different social settings. Alcohol in our culture is in general use and not illegal. Cannabis is used by a minority, and mostly against the law. Drinking patterns vary widely by country and by social class. Though many drinkers, particularly those who can be regarded as alcoholics, drink to get drunk, alcohol-users normally take a small amount, seeking only mild effects and a little social relaxation. The patterns of cannabis-smoking are more obscure. Experienced cannabis-users often smoke cannabis for a mild intoxication that they feel will improve their performance in a particular social setting or activity, e.g. playing jazz. Many smokers, however, take the drug in anticipation of a few hours of intense mental elation without the aggressive impulses often associated with taking large amounts of alcohol. All in all, it is impossible to make out a firm case against cannabis as being potentially a greater personal or social danger than alcohol. What can be said is that alcohol, with all its problems, is in some sense the "devil we know"; cannabis, in Western society, is still an unknown quantity.

62. Tobacco-smoking is, of course, the most widespread "drug-addiction" in our society. The immediate effects are well known and substantially harmless. Physical dependence does not appear to occur, but habituation is intense, and people find great difficulty in giving up smoking. The long-term dangers of smoking in inducing cancer of the lung, in exacerbating chronic bronchitis and in contributing to coronary thrombosis are great. Nevertheless the danger that smoking may produce lung cancer was for a long while not apparent. It is not possible to say that long continued consumption, medically or for pleasure, of cannabis, or indeed of any other substance of which we have not yet had long experience, is free from possible danger.

63. To make a comparative evaluation between cannabis and other drugs is to venture on highly subjective territory. The history of the assessments that have been given to different drugs is a warning against any dogmatic judgment.

64. Tobacco was once the object of extreme judgments. In the 17th century a number of countries attempted to restrict or forbid its use, but without success. In 1606 Philip 111 of Spain issued a decree restricting its cultivation. In 1610 in Japan restrictions were issued against planting and smoking tobacco, and there are records of at least 150 people apprehended in 1614 for buying and selling it contrary to the Emperor’s command, who were in jeopardy of their lives. At the same time, in Persia, violators of the laws which prohibited smoking were tortured and in some cases beheaded. The Mogul Emperor of Hindustan noted "as the smoking of tobacco has taken a very bad effect in health and mind of so many persons I order that no person shall practice the habit". Smokers were to have their lips slit. In 1634 the Czar of Russia forbade smoking, and ordered both smokers and vendors to have their noses slit, and persistent violators to be put to death. Medical reports of the period are full of accounts of its deleterious effects on mental and physical health.

65. Even non-alcoholic beverages that are now in common use have, in their time, been regarded as gravely dangerous. As late as the beginning of this century the Regius Professor of Physic at Cambridge along with the most distinguished pharmacologist of the time described in a standard medical textbook the effects of excessive coffee consumption: "the sufferer is tremulous and loses his self-command, he is subject to fits of agitation and depression. He has a haggard appearance.... As with other such agents. a renewed dose of the poison gives temporary relief. but at the cost of future misery". Tea was no better. "Tea has appeared to us to be especially efficient in producing nightmares with ... hallucinations which may be alarming in their intensity.... Another peculiar quality of tea is to produce a strange and extreme degree of physical depression. An hour or two after breakfast at which tea has been taken . . . a grievous sinking ... may seize upon a sufferer, so that to speak is an effort.... The speech may become weak and vague.... By miseries such as these, the best years of life may be spoilt".

66. With such earlier judgments in mind we do not wish to make any formal or absolute statement on a comparison of cannabis and the other drugs in common social use. All we would wish to say is that the gradations of danger between consuming tea and coffee at one end of the scale and injecting heroin intravenously at the other, may not be permanently those which we now ascribe to particular drugs.

 

1994 Judgement of the German Constitutional Court on cannabis

http://www.drugtext.org/library/legal/verdicft.html

 

1999-2001 The ACMD annual report

Subjects considered by Council: A review of the criteria used to consider whether a drug should be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the development of a new risk assessment protocol. This work is still in progress but should be completed in 2001/2002.

 

2000 Police Foundation, Drugs and the law - Independent Inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act, p.39, para 1: http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/Library/studies/runciman/pf3.htm

 

In introducing the legislation in 1970, the Home Secretary, Mr. Callaghan, said1

The object here is to make, so far as possible, a more sensible differentiation between drugs. It will divide them according to their accepted dangers and harmfulness in the light of current knowledge and it will provide for changes to be made in the classification in the light of new scientific knowledge.

 

2002 Home Affairs Committee, The Government’s Drug Policy: is it working?  http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200102/cmselect/cmhaff/318/31802.htm

 

9. Legal drugs, such as tobacco and alcohol, are responsible for far greater damage both to individual health and to the social fabric in general than illegal ones.

10. Substance misuse is a continuum perhaps artificially divided into legal and illegal activity.

20. 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.

 

69. Why are alcohol and tobacco not integrated into the drugs strategy?
(Rosemary Jenkins) Tobacco has an approach of its own. We have to recognise that the two substances are somewhat different in that they have legal status rather than illegal status, which means that the way in which you approach them has to be very different. …It is much more complicated than drugs because of the general view that it is legal and most people manage their alcohol in a perfectly legitimate and reasonable way. So any strategy has to take account of that societal attitude.

 

Prosser: "What studies have the Home Office done to date on the possible effects of decriminalising drugs of all classes?" Hogg (HO): "we, certainly in my time, have not been asked to undertake any detailed study of the impact of decriminalisation". Hellawell (HO): "To address the question straight on, I know of no comprehensive study to look at the effects of decriminalisation of all drugs". Chairman: "Have you seen our terms of reference? Point two: what would be the effect of decriminalisation on (a) the availability of and demand for drugs (b) drug-related deaths and (c) crime? Does your evidence address that at all? Point three: is decriminalisation desirable and, if not, what are the practical alternatives? Do you think that is addressed? We appear to be in denial here, do we not? … You do not think you ought even to address this debate going on in the outside world, if only in order to rebut the assertions being made?… if nobody will even address it among the official witnesses, how are we going to proceed?"

 

Government reply: http://www.archive2.official-documents.co.uk/document/cm55/5573/5573.pdf

Home Affairs Committee’s report Government’s Drug Policy: Is it working? concluded "We recommend that the Government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways – including the possibility of legalisation and regulation – to tackle the global drugs dilemma".
The Government’s reply was "The Government does not accept this recommendation. We do not accept that legalisation and regulation is now, or will be in the future, an acceptable response to the presence of drugs. The Government regularly participates in debates with the Commission on Narcotic Drugs that explore a wide range of strategies for dealing with the global drugs dilemma. The positions the Government takes in these debates must be consistent with our domestic legislation and international obligations".

 

2006, 31st July, Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee, Drug classification: making a hash of it? HC 1031:  http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmsctech/1031/1031.pdf

 

Concluding statement:

107. In this case study, which forms part of our broader inquiry into how the Government handles scientific advice, risk and evidence, we examined the role that scientific advice and evidence have played in the classification of illegal drugs. The classification system purports to rank drugs on the basis of harm associated with their misuse but we have found glaring anomalies in the classification system as it stands and a wide consensus that the current system is not fit for purpose.

 

Summary, p.3:

·         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 and should be replaced with a more scientifically based scale of harm

 

Default classification from prior legislation & UN reviewable by ACMD:

6. The United Nations’ Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961 and its attempts to establish a Convention on Psychotropic Substances (eventually ratified in 1971) formed an important backdrop to the UK’s efforts to rationalise its legislation in this area. James Callaghan, the then Home Secretary, told Parliament in 1970 that in developing the ABC classification system the Government had used the UN Single Convention and guidance provided by the World Health Organisation to place drugs “in the order in which we think they should be classified of harmfulness and danger”.7 Even at that early stage, the Government said that drugs would be classified “according to the accepted dangers and harmfulness in light of current knowledge”, with provision “for changes to be made in […] the light of scientific knowledge”.

7. The Misuse of Drugs Act did not specify why particular drugs were placed in Class A, B or C but did create an Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to keep the classification of drugs under review. … Various drugs which were not originally regulated under the Act have also become classified—ketamine, gamma-hydroxy butyrate (GHB) and steroids have all been placed in Class C.

 

 

Legitimate aim:

78 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.

Failure to achieve legitimate aim:

Summary, p.3: we have expressed concern at the Government’s proclivity for using the classification system as a means of ‘sending out signals’ to potential users and society at large—it is at odds with the stated objective of classifying drugs on the basis of harm

96 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”.195 The paper also found that the boundaries between the Classes were entirely arbitrary.

106. 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). The Runciman report also stated that, on the basis of harm, “alcohol would be classed as B bordering on A, while cigarettes would probably be in the borderline between B and C”.

Sentencing & HRA implications:

80. The penalties associated with classification can have serious consequences for users in terms of sentencing.

 

Magic mushrooms:

54. Psilocin and psilocybin were designated Class A drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, apparently on account of their hallucinogenic properties. Psilocin is also listed under Schedule I, the highest level of prohibition, under the UN’s Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971.94 Sir Michael Rawlins, Chairman of the ACMD, told us: “I have no idea what was going through the minds of the group who put it in Class A in 1970 and 1971 […]It is there because it is there”.95 The Home Office has admitted that it has never conducted any research into psilocin use and that there is “no clear evidence of a link between psilocin use and acquisitive or other crime”.96

55. The Government’s use of a clarification of the law to put fresh magic mushrooms in Class A contravened the spirit of the Misuse of Drugs Act and meant that the ACMD was not given the chance to consider the evidence properly before responding. We also note the admission by the Home Office Minister Paul Goggins that “the Home Office received no submissions in favour of the clarification of the law in respect of magic mushrooms prior to the Drugs Act 2005 being granted Royal Assent on seven April and four submissions against”.100

56. In fact, we encountered a widespread view that the Class A status of magic mushrooms does not reflect the harms associated with their misuse. The RAND report concluded that the Government’s decision “was not based on scientific evidence”, noting that “the positioning of them in Class A does not seem to reflect any scientific evidence that they are of equivalent harm to other Class A drugs”.101 The RAND report pointed out that “National Statistics show that for deaths in which drug poisoning (listed on the death certificate) was the underlying cause of death, between 1993 and 2000 there was one death from magic mushrooms and 5,737 from heroin” and that “The lethal dose for humans is about one’s own body weight in mushrooms”.102 Professor Blakemore was also of the view that “if one could look at all the evidence for harm available now, including social harms, one would say [the classification of magic mushrooms] is wrong”.103 The Government’s own ‘Talk to Frank’ drug information website states that “Magic Mushrooms are not addictive in any way”.104

57. We were, therefore, surprised and disappointed to hear Sir Michael Rawlins, Chairman of the ACMD, tell us that “it was not a big issue” whether magic mushrooms were in the right Class. In Sir Michael’s view: “there are bigger, more important issues to worry about than whether fresh mushrooms join the rest of the other things in Class A”.109 The Chairman of the ACMD’s attitude towards the decision to place magic mushrooms in Class A indicates a degree of complacency that can only serve to damage the reputation of the Council.

The ACMD should have spoken out against the Government’s proposal to place magic mushrooms in Class A. Its failure to do so has undermined its credibility and made it look as though it fully endorsed the Home Office’s decision, despite the striking lack of evidence to suggest that the Class A status of magic mushrooms was merited on the basis of the harm associated with their misuse.

84. The ACMD told us that the evidence base available for making decisions about classification was often inadequate. For example, Sir Michael, ACMD Chairman, said of the decision to clarify the law resulting in fresh magic mushrooms being placed in Class A:

“It may be better in B rather than A. The trouble is that the evidence now is so old. It all dates back to the 1960s and there was not very much evidence then”.166 On the matter of why psilocin, one of the hallucinogenic compounds found in magic mushrooms, was in Class A, Sir Michael told us: “it is there because it is there […] there have been very few publications on psilocin. It has hardly been investigated at all”.167

Ecstasy:

60. The RAND report cited evidence suggesting that “ecstasy may be several thousand times less dangerous than heroin, although both are in Class A, as the percentage of deaths among users is very small and there is little evidence that ecstasy users exhibit withdrawal symptoms, with far more evidence suggesting there are no withdrawal symptoms”.115 It also noted that “Recent figures show that there were about 13.5 times more ecstasy users than heroin users in 2004, and deaths caused by ecstasy were around 3% of the number caused by heroin”.116 In oral evidence to this inquiry, Professor Colin Blakemore, MRC Chief Executive, told us that ecstasy was “at the bottom of the scale of harm” and “on the basis of present evidence […] should not be a Class A drug”.117

61. According to DrugScope, the ACMD was not consulted prior to classification of ecstasy as a Class A drug in 1977 and the Government has resisted more recent calls to refer the matter to the ACMD.118 David Blunkett, then Home Secretary, rejected the recommendation of both the Runciman report in 2000 and the Home Affairs Committee in 2002 that ecstasy should be reclassified from Class A to Class B, in the latter case on the grounds that reclassification would be “irresponsible”.119 The Government’s response to the Runciman report stated: “In the absence of any clear recommendation from the Advisory Council to the contrary, the Government believes that ecstasy should remain a Class A drug”, but Mr Blunkett subsequently refused to ask the ACMD to conduct a review of the evidence.120,121 The Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker told us categorically in evidence to this inquiry that the Government still had “no plans” to refer the classification of ecstasy to the ACMD.122

62. What is perhaps more surprising is that the ACMD has not “presented any recommendations on [ecstasy] to the Government of its own volition”.123 Sir Michael gave the following explanation for this in evidence to us: “The difficulty is it is one of these other areas where there is very little research done on it […] Frankly, I do not think we would get anywhere by a review at the present time. This may change. There may be better evidence that comes forward but it is vague and imprecise and I do not think we would get very far”.124 We are not convinced by this explanation and note that there is a substantial body of scientific literature on ecstasy, much of which has been published in recent years. In view of the high-profile nature of the drug and its apparent widespread usage amongst certain groups, it is surprising and disappointing that the ACMD has never chosen to review the evidence for ecstasy’s Class A status. This, in turn, highlights the lack of clarity regarding the way the ACMD determines its work programme. We recommend that the ACMD carries out an urgent review of the classification of ecstasy.

Summary MMs & ecstasy:

95. Although we have only examined a small number of drugs in any detail, we have identified a multitude of anomalies in decisions about their classification. Fresh magic mushrooms were placed in Class A despite the lack of evidence that this reflected the harms associated with their misuse. They were put there because the chemicals which they contain, psilocin and psilocybin, were already there, but there was also a lack of evidence to justify these chemicals being placed in Class A. By contrast, the ACMD argued that it could not review the Class A status of ecstasy because there was insufficient evidence.

Nutt paper:

96. Furthermore, 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 as calculated by leading experts using the so-called Delphi method.193,194 Astonishingly, despite the fact that Professor Nutt is the lead author, the paper asserted that “The current classification system has evolved in an unsystematic way from somewhat arbitrary foundations with seemingly little scientific basis”.195 The paper also found that the boundaries between the Classes were entirely arbitrary and the authors argued that the rigid nature of the classification system made it difficult to move substances between Classes as new evidence emerged.

Failure to call for review:

Summary, p.3: In light of the serious failings of the ABC classification system that we have identified, we urge the Home Secretary to honour his predecessor’s commitment to review the current system, and to do so without further delay.

p.5, para 2: The classification of illegal drugs is also a matter of significant public concern and recent decisions regarding changes in classification, most notably the reclassification of cannabis from Class B to Class C, have been the subject of intense media debate. Perhaps the strongest indicator of discontent over the current ABC classification system came in January 2006, when the then Home Secretary, Rt. Hon. Charles Clarke, announced that he would be undertaking a root and branch review of the ABC system

p.24, para 47: The Home Secretary accepted the ACMD’s recommendations in full in January 2006, simultaneously launching a fundamental review of the classification system itself.

p.28, para 59: We recommend that a consistent policy be developed as part of the forthcoming review of the classification system.

p.32, para 69: 69. Overall, our examination of the processes used by the ACMD and Home Office to make, respectively, recommendations and decisions regarding the classification of drugs has revealed a disconcertingly ad hoc approach to determining when reviews should be undertaken and a worrying lack of transparency in how classification decisions are made.

p.35, para 76: The Government’s current approach is opaque and leaves itself open to the interpretation that reviews are being launched as knee-jerk responses to media storms.

p.37, para 81: the then Home Secretary cited as justification for the review of the classification system announced in January 2006 the fact that “Decisions on classification often address different or conflicting purposes, and too often send strong but confusing signals to users and others about the harms and consequences of using a particular drug”

p.44, para 98. On 19 January 2006, following his statement on the classification of cannabis, the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke announced that he was initiating a review of the ABC classification system:

“The more that I have considered these matters, the more concerned I have become about the limitations of our current system. […] I will in the next few weeks publish a consultation paper with suggestions for a review of the drug classification system, on the basis of which I will make proposals in due course.” The decision to review the classification system was supported by the ACMD and others. Sir Michael Rawlins told us in oral evidence: “I think it right that the Home Secretary is relooking at it”.

p.45,para 100: 100. We too welcomed the announcement by the then Home Secretary that he would be reviewing the entire classification system. However, we became concerned that the promised “few weeks” between the announcement and the publication of the consultation turned into several months. Furthermore, following the ministerial changes at the Home Office, Vernon Coaker told us: “with respect to the consultation document which is in draft form in the department, the view is that we will need to wait until such time as we decide how to proceed with respect to the review of the classification system and also, similarly, wait for the report of this Committee – which we want to take into account in determining the best way forward”.202 We urge the new Home Secretary to honour his predecessor’s promise to conduct the review—our findings suggest that it is much needed. Although we are, of course, pleased that the Home Office is placing such store by our recommendations, the long delay in publishing the consultation paper on the review of the classification system has been unfortunate and should be rectified immediately.

p.48, para 108: 108. The problems we have identified highlight the fact that the promised review of the classification system is much needed and we urge the Government to proceed with the consultation with further delay.

p.51, Rec 23: We recommend that a consistent policy be developed as part of the forthcoming review of the classification system. (Paragraph 59)

p.52, 32. If the Government wishes to take into account public opinion in making its decisions about classification it should adopt a more empirical approach to assessing it. The Government’s current approach is opaque and leaves itself open to the interpretation that reviews are being launched as knee-jerk responses to media storms. (Paragraph 76)

p.54, 43. We urge the new Home Secretary to honour his predecessor’s promise to conduct the review—our findings suggest that it is much needed. Although we are, of course, pleased that the Home Office is placing such store by our recommendations, the long delay in publishing the consultation paper on the review of the classification system has been unfortunate and should be rectified immediately. (Paragraph 100)

Ev 2, Q115: Professor Sir Michael Rawlins: I very much welcome the approach that the Home Secretary is taking, that he is reviewing it and is going to produce a consultation paper shortly.

Ev2, Q123: Dr Iddon: Because the classification is set out in the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, could I suggest that you are perhaps operating within a straitjacket and there is very little flexibility? Professor Sir Michael Rawlins: There is some lack of flexibility and that is one of the reasons why we welcome the Home Secretary’s decision to review the classification system and come out with a consultation paper.

Q392-3: Q392: Dr Iddon: Why is the home secretary calling for a review of the system? Q393 Chairman: Can you hazard a guess, Colin? Professor Blakemore: I think that the driver for the review was quite clearly the time, effort, deliberation and conflicting advice that impinged on the decision not to re-classify cannabis, and the realisation that the arbitrary (and I would defend that word) boundary between B and C was not easily defensible. If it took so much effort to consider one particular drug and whether it should be placed on one side or other of a boundary, does it not imply that the entire mechanism for classifying requires a new look? There are other issues too and I suspect that the Advisory Council pointed these out—that some drugs might simply have become lodged in categories on the basis of historical allocation, which might have seemed very reasonable at the time but the present position cannot easily be defended on the basis of present evidence. I point particularly to the hallucinogens in category A and also perhaps to ecstasy.

Q1205: [HO quote about review draft document ready but waiting for this report]

 

ACMD review & failure to call for Government review:

97. Considering the fact that the Chair of the ACMD Technical Committee had started drafting the paper proposing an alternative to the ABC system of classification more than 18 months ago, we were very surprised to hear from the Chairman of the ACMD that the Council had “never formally discussed the case for reviewing the classification system”.196 We were also taken aback by Sir Michael’s assertion that the Council did not possess “the necessary expertise” to provide advice on alternative approaches to the classification of drugs. In addition, confidential information we have obtained makes us somewhat suspicious of the reasons behind the delay in submission of the paper authored by Professor Nutt and his colleagues for publication. We understand that the ACMD operates within the framework set by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 but, bearing in mind that the Council is the sole scientific advisory body on drugs policy, we consider the Council’s failure to alert the Home Secretary to the serious doubts about the basis and effectiveness of the classification system at an earlier stage a dereliction of its duty.

 

Appendix 14, A rational scale for assessing the risks of drugs of potential misuse, submitted by the ACMD, appears to be the “paper authored by experts including Professor Nutt, Chairman of the ACMD Technical Committee”.

·         The current classification system has evolved in an unsystematic way from somewhat arbitrary foundations with seemingly little scientific basis.

·         The correlation between MDAct classification and harm rating was not statistically significant.

·         Alcohol [and] tobacco … were ranked as more harmful than LSD.

·         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.

·         Our findings reveal no clear distinction between socially accepted and illicit substances.

 

ACMD Chairman’s oral evidence to Science & Technology Committee, 15 February 2006, HC 900-i:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmsctech/1031/6030103.htm

Q127 Chairman: Bearing in mind that alcohol probably kills directly or indirectly about 32,000 people a year, tobacco 130,000 people a year, and those deaths are far in excess of all the deaths caused by the use of all illicit drugs, why is your committee not enabled to look at tobacco and alcohol as well as all the other substances?

Professor Sir Michael Rawlins: I think the idea that we would control tobacco and alcohol in the form of the Misuse of Drugs Act (which would thereby render them illegal in terms of possession or supply) - the Americans tried this in Prohibition days in the 1930s, and it was a disaster and just encouraged crime, and quite clearly it is not a practicable proposition.

Q128 Chairman: But, Professor Rawlins, that is exactly what has happened in terms of the drugs classification system. It is exactly what happened with the prohibition of alcohol in the States.

Professor Sir Michael Rawlins: I would not disagree with that.
Q166 ACMD Chairman: What we have to do though is realise that over the last 30 years the use of drugs has dramatically increased in this country, and that the criminal justice system has not prevented that in any way.

 

ACMD Chairman’s oral evidence before Science & Technology Committee, 22 November 2006, HC 65 http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmselect/cmsctech/uc65-i/uc6502.htm

 

Q68 Professor Sir Michael Rawlins: It seems to be a principle of British justice that the penalty fits the crime. The more severe the crime and the more nasty stuff you are purveying then you go to prison for longer periods of time. That seems to be a perfectly reasonable approach to justice and I had always believed it to be the approach underpinning the classification system; the nastier the drug the longer you go to jail if you start trading in it.

Q69 Chairman: Nastier means the degree of harm to the individual and to society?

Professor Sir Michael Rawlins: Exactly.

Q70 Chairman: Which is why we sell alcohol in every supermarket!

Professor Sir Michael Rawlins: It would be a very brave Home Secretary who declared alcohol a controlled substance.

Q73 Adam Afriyie: With the harm caused by alcohol and arguably tobacco, in my view looking at the scales, they should be rated far higher than LSD and ecstasy. Where do you think it would be positioned on the table?
Mr Coaker: First of all, there is a distinction between illegal and legal drugs, as I know you are aware, and what we have got is a classification system that ranks illegal drugs. What we also have alongside that is issues with respect to substances which are legal, as alcohol and tobacco are, and that we know cause harm, particularly with the misuse of alcohol. The misuse of alcohol is a serious problem. I have seen what people have said as to where it should be placed. I think somebody was recommending somewhere on the border of A and B. I do not know whether that is the appropriate place for it but I stress again, Adam, it is the misuse of alcohol and we do have significant policies in government to try to tackle a problem which we know is a very real one.
Q74 Adam Afriyie: Okay, but do you think it might be helpful in the Government's aim to tackle the misuse of alcohol and perhaps even the use of tobacco, to educate people by including it in that table of harm so they can see very clearly where they fit as mind-altering drugs?
Mr Coaker: If you have retained the classification of illegal drugs, as we have done, I do not think you could put it in that categorisation. What we are doing ---
Q75 Adam Afriyie: --- But that is based on the harm to individuals and society and surely you can place alcohol within that table?
Mr Coaker: The judgment that we have made is a distinction between legal and illegal drugs, but what we have also recognised, however, is that you have got a classification system dealing with illegal drugs, then we have got legal substances - and again there is no division between us on this - and we know where alcohol is abused there is a real issue. We know that we need to tackle that. We have an alcohol harm reduction strategy which we are looking at, and we are working with the industry, working with education, working with health, working with all other government departments to try to tackle that.
Q76 Adam Afriyie: The only short point I would make and ask for a comment on is why does the Government feel the need to withhold that information, if you like, as to the harm to individuals and to society of legal drugs like alcohol? Why is that not in the table? Would that not help to educate people to see the impact that these substances have on society?
Mr Coaker: We are not trying to withhold information about the harm that the misuse of alcohol does. We know the misuse of alcohol is extremely harmful. There has been a lot of publicity about it, the information is out there, there have been a lot of debates in Parliament and so on about all of that. What I am saying is that we would not put it in a classification system at the current time where we rank illegal drugs.
Mr Newmark: That is only for historical reasons. The fact is that both alcohol and tobacco alter people's mental functioning. If we are trying to educate the public as to the harm of drugs that are illegal, then I do think there is some sort of relativism in order to be honest with the public with respect to alcohol and tobacco. That is not something we are saying you should do but it is something that should be considered. Again, for historic reasons we have said that marijuana is illegal and yet we know of many young people who take marijuana and who say it is no more harmful to them in terms of altering their mental functioning than two glasses of alcohol of some form. I think it is important if we are going to be honest with the public that we do tabulate it. We could have one column that says "illegal" and one that says "legal". The fact is just because for historic reasons we have decided marijuana is illegal and alcohol and tobacco are legal does not alter the fact that both actually alter people's mental functioning, and I think that is the important message we need to get across to people.
Q77 Chairman: Do you agree with that?
Mr Coaker: First of all, marijuana - and I know you are not saying this, Brooks, but just to be clear about this - will stay a[n] [il]legal drug. I know that you were not suggesting that it should not be. Just to repeat the point, I think the important message is about the harm that the misuse of alcohol does. That is the message that we need to get out there. That is the message that we are trying to do. I am not sure to put that in a list with illegal drugs is the most appropriate way to do that. There is an issue about ensuring that everyone is aware of the harm that misuse of alcohol causes.
Q78 Dr Turner: I think the point, Vernon, is not so much that anyone is suggesting that tobacco or alcohol should be made illegal but that it should be pointed out that were they illegal drugs this is where we would put them on a scale of harm.
Professor Sir Michael Rawlins: Can I come in here. In another life I live every day with the problem of alcohol and tobacco, which cause more misery and suffering than the whole of the misuse of drugs together. Collectively it causes about 150,000 premature deaths every year. Our response to that has to be very different to the response to the substance misuse issue. It is a massive problem, it causes, as I said, untold misery, and our reaction to it has to be predominantly a public health one. There are limits to what the law can do. Everybody knows that too much alcohol is bad for you, everybody knows that. Kids are also taught at school about the harm caused by tobacco. What is very disturbing is the fact that the early use of tobacco and alcohol by kids is probably the main gateway to substance misuse later on, and I think we really do need as a society to recognise the importance of tobacco and alcohol in relationship to kids and do more in schools. However,, frankly, putting it into the classification system I just do not think is going to get us anywhere. We have got to focus our effort on what will really, really work.
Q79 Mr Newmark: This goes back to my point, therefore if you are trying educate children - and I agree as someone who is a non-smoker and non-drinker myself - as to why drugs are bad (and I agree with Vernon's statement that that does not mean that we should make anything legal that is illegal) we must show young children in particular, if we are saying marijuana or LSD or anything else kids take is bad, in the exact same table that alcohol and tobacco are just as bad or relatively as bad as the other drugs on the table. That is part of the education process. If you are saying one is a public health issue because for historic reasons we have said alcohol and tobacco are perfectly okay but for other reasons we have said dropping LSD and smoking marijuana is not, I think it is very misleading to the public, and in particular to young people, and I think it shows that we are being hypocritical.
Mr Coaker: The only point I would make, just to repeat, is we have got a classification system for illegal drugs; we have got legal substances, alcohol and tobacco, which we try and regulate through other means such as through public health messages.
Q80 Mr Newmark: In terms of its impact on society ---
Mr Coaker: And we try to address that in different ways through public health messages that we put out and through education.
Q81 Dr Turner: I think the point is that you cannot necessarily put them into totally distinct categories because if you talk to anyone who drinks a bit and certainly anyone that smokes, nine times out of ten they will say, "I do not do drugs", but of course they do.
Professor Sir Michael Rawlins: Coffee, tea, the whole lot; we all do drugs.
Dr Turner: Tobacco is a lethal drug. All I am suggesting is that you draw the parallels and you use this as part of your public education to the effect that alcohol and tobacco are examples of potentially very harmful or even lethal drugs.
Mr Newmark: And addictive.
Dr Turner: Which are as harmful if not more harmful than many Class A illegal drugs. I think that sends out a very powerful message if you link the two.
Chairman: To be fair, one of the most disappointing aspects of the response from the ACMD and the Government was the total rejection of a new scale of harm decoupled from criminal penalties to put alcohol and tobacco and other substances within that scale of harm. I will not ask you for a comment, Professor Nutt, because I know you totally agree with my comments!
Mr Newmark: I would put at the far end of the chart that you would put there how many deaths are created by each of these drugs and alcohol and tobacco, so people can see the harm of alcohol and tobacco.
Q82 Chairman: I think we have made our point very forcibly to you and I know that you will take it away,
Vernon.
Mr Coaker: Always, of course.

 

 

2006, 14th Sept, Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Pathways to Problems - Hazardous use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs by young people in the UK and its implications for policy.  http://www.drugs.gov.uk/publication-search/acmd/pathways-to-problems/Pathwaystoproblems.pdf

Overview, p.8:

1. In the UK today, a large proportion of young people use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs in the pursuit of pleasure, solace, acceptance or escape. Such drugs all act on the same areas of the brain, altering its normal function and hence the user’s experience.

7. Young people in the UK have little difficulty in obtaining tobacco, alcohol or other drugs, despite a legal framework designed to restrict their access to them. … While prosecutions for the sale and possession of illegal drugs are common, prosecutions of vendors of cigarettes or alcohol to underage customers are very rare.

Recommendation 1, p.10:

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 11, p.10:

A fully integrated approach should be taken to the development of policies designed to prevent the hazardous use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs

Introduction, p.14, para 2:

In its first 30 years, the ACMD has focused most of its attention on drugs that are subject to the controls and restrictions of the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971). Although its terms of reference do not prevent it from doing so, the ACMD has not considered alcohol and tobacco other than tangentially. The scientific evidence is now clear that nicotine and alcohol have pharmacological actions similar to other psychoactive drugs. Both cause serious health and social problems and there is growing evidence of very strong links between the use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs. For the ACMD to neglect two of the most harmful psychoactive drugs simply because they have a different legal status no longer seems appropriate.

1.1 The worldwide appeal of psychoactive drugs lies largely in the expectation that they will produce desirable effects: generating or enhancing feelings of pleasure or relaxation; diminishing pain, depression, sadness or fatigue; increasing energy or concentration; and facilitating socialisation.

1.13 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) (Figure 1.3) 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.

Figure 1.3 Classification of drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) Drugs are grouped into one of three classes, on the basis of their harmfulness to individuals and society (as agreed by Parliament):

….The system of classification of drugs, under the Act, is related to determining the penalties for their possession and supply

 

Analysis:

·         Harmful use is ‘the cause of public concern’, not any use:

“the potential to cause harm to users, their families and friends, and the community at large ... is the cause of public concern”.

·         ACMD now recommend what was always the intention of the MDA:

“We therefore recommend that a fully integrated approach should be taken to the development of policies designed to prevent the hazardous use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs”.

Alcohol & tobacco are analagous to illegal psychoactive drugs:

·         Consumed for same purpose: “a large proportion of young people use tobacco, alcohol and other drugs in the pursuit of pleasure, solace, acceptance or escape”.

·         Act on the brain the same: “Such drugs all act on the same areas of the brain, altering its normal function and hence the user’s experience”.

·         Same potential to cause harm: alcohol and tobacco’s “harmfulness to individuals and society is no less than that of other psychoactive drugs”. Ecstasy and LSD appear to have little addictive potential”.

·         Viewed as the same: “While tobacco, alcohol and other drugs all have differing legal status, many young people do not appear to recognise these distinctions”.

Evidence of a difference in treatment:

·          “While prosecutions for the sale and possession of illegal drugs are common, prosecutions of vendors of cigarettes or alcohol to underage customers are very rare”.

·         There are “heavy penalties for the sale and possession of illegal drugs”. “Controls on the availability, pricing and marketing … of illegal drugs [are] already highly restrictive” while…

·         “Given what is now known about tobacco … it seems entirely unjustified that such a dangerous drug, clearly labelled as lethal, should still be sold to minors”. “Alcohol companies have considerable freedom to market their products to young people using the full panoply of product development, advertising and other techniques”.

No objective rational justification for discrimination:

·         “At present, the legal framework for the regulation and control of drugs clearly distinguishes between drugs such as tobacco and alcohol…, drugs which are covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) and drugs which are classed as medicines…. these distinctions are based on historical and cultural factors and lack a consistent and objective basis”.

·         ACMD discrimination no longer appropriate – it never was:
“for the ACMD to neglect two of the most harmful psychoactive drugs simply because they have a different legal status no longer seems appropriate”.

 

2006, 13th Oct, Government reply to Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee’s Drug classification: making a hash of it? Cm 6941:

http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/drug-classsification-response?view=Binary

 

3. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 established the system by which drugs are classified. Its fundamental purpose was then and remains today to provide a framework within which criminal penalties are set with reference to the harm caused by a drug and the type of illegal activity undertaken in regard to that drug.

 

Reply to rec 1:

It has always been the position of the UK Government that the United Nations Conventions, to which the UK is a signatory, do not pose a significant barrier to a change in the system by which drugs are controlled in this country. However, the Government is not free to legislate entirely as it pleases. It must do so within the parameters set by the Conventions.

 

Reply to rec 31:

Decisions made by Government on classification matters rightly attract considerable interest and, in many cases, polarise views. The Government has made significant efforts to make very clear the reasons why it has classified or reclassified a drug, whether to Parliament or the public.

The drug classification system is not a simple measure of medical or social harms caused by drugs. Whilst these measures are at its very core and cannot be overstated, it represents a more complex assessment from a wide range of sources to ensure that any decision to classify or reclassify a drug is as unbiased and objective as possible.

In response to the Committee’s findings, the Government is pleased to set out the criteria it adopts when making classification decisions.

Decisions are based on 2 broad criteria – (1) scientific knowledge (medical, social scientific, economic, risk assessment) and (2) political and public knowledge (social values, political vision, historical precedent, cultural preference). Decisions must take account of scientific knowledge of medical harms, and social and economic evidence, as well as the insight provided by public consultation, and the knowledge and understanding provided by public bodies and Government departments.

 

Reply to rec 50:

The Government fully agrees that the drug classification system under the Misuse of Drugs Act is not a suitable mechanism for regulating legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco. 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). Legal substances are therefore regulated through other means. However the Government acknowledges that alcohol and tobacco account for more health problems and deaths than illicit drugs and this is why the Government intervenes in many ways to prevent, minimise and deal with the consequences of the harms caused by these substances through its dedicated Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy and its smoking/tobacco programme. At the core of this work, which is given considerable resources, is a series of education and communication measures aimed at achieving long term change in attitudes. It is through this that the public continues to be informed in an effective and credible manner.

 

 

2006 DCA Review of Human Rights Act: para. 50

www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200506/jtselect/jtrights/278/27806.htm

Guidance to departments has consistently made it clear that human rights proofing is not simply an exercise to be carried out after legislation has been drafted. Questions of proportionality, and the identification of policy options that produce the least interference with Convention rights, should be embedded in the policy development process.

 

Sentencing Guidelines Council:

http://www.sentencing-guidelines.gov.uk/docs/Seriousness_guideline.pdf

 

The issue: The object of public concern & sentencing should be objectively harmful drug use only NOT subjective public fear of any use.

The Sentencing Guidelines Council’s report Overarching Principles: Seriousness states:

“Some conduct is criminalised purely by reference to public feeling or social mores. In addition, public concern about the damage caused by some behaviour, both to individuals and to society as a whole, can influence public perception of the harm caused, for example, by the supply of prohibited drugs” (para 1.14).

The Criminal Justice Act 2003, Section 143(1) lists the factors relevant to sentencing as culpability and harm, specifying the types of harm as: harm actually caused, harm intended, and harm risked.

Point 1: there is no mention of public fear of harm in CJA2003 so what is the legal basis for considering public fear as a factor in sentencing? Misuse of Drugs Act & Gov drugs policy provides no such basis, both indicating that objective evidence of harmfulness is the only relevant factor.

Point 2: culpability should be considered first, then harm, according to SGC in OP:S. Offenders cannot be culpable for public fear of harm so public fear should be irrelevant to sentencing.

Point 3: if public fear is in excess of the objective evidence of harmfulness, are the guidelines suggesting higher sentences to reflect that fear or are they suggesting lower sentences to compensate for it - e.g. jury bias? The Guidelines appear ambiguous - some judges may take the guidance one way, some the other. If the former interpretation, sentencing proportionate to fear, then does this mean that if the public feared old ladies with black cats and broomsticks enough, then burning at the stake would be a proportionate sentence?

Another version of the above is in the Sentencing Advisory Panel’s advice on ‘New Sentences – Criminal Justice Act 2003’ http://www.sentencing-guidelines.gov.uk/docs/New_sentences_guideline1.pdf

“24. Some conduct is criminalised purely by reference to public feeling or social mores, for example sexual offences such as 'sex with an adult relative', 'intercourse with an animal' and 'sexual activity in a public lavatory'. This may also be true of possessing dangerous drugs, since people are free to harm themselves in other ways (for example through alcohol abuse) without committing a criminal offence. However, public concern about the damage caused both to individuals and to society as a whole by drug addiction has influenced the public perception of the harm caused by this offence”.

But of course 'drug addiction' is not an offence. Not even addiction to controlled drugs is an offence. Only the exercise of property rights - possession, supply, production - are offences, even if no harm is caused. The public fear, caused by inaccurate & misleading Government information, is that any use of illegal drugs is harmful but this is not based on evidence but prejudice.

 

Government claims drugs policy is based on scientific evidence and proportionality, not opinion:

The Government's reply to the Report of the Independent Police Foundation Inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200001/cmselect/cmhaff/226/22604.htm 

"11. The Government agrees with the Police Foundation's conclusion that the main classification criteria should continue to be that of dangerousness..." "... assessments of the sort that ACMD are required to make when considering the harmfulness of drugs ... should clearly state methodology."

Home Office letter to UN’s International Narcotics Control Board defending cannabis reclassification based on scientific evidence: http://www.drugscope.org.uk/news_item.asp?a=1&intID=981

"I am writing on behalf of the United Kingdom Government to record its dismay at comments made in the International Narcotics Control Board annual report about the Government's decision to reclassify cannabis. In particular the alarmist language used, the absence of any reference to the scientific evidence on which that decision was based, and the misleading way in which the decision was presented by the INCB to the media. The decision to reclassify cannabis was based on scientific advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, following their detailed scrutiny of all the available scientific and research material. …the Advisory Council concluded that cannabis is unquestionably harmful, but that its current classification is disproportionate both in relation to its inherent toxicity, and to that of other substances... It therefore recommended that it be reclassified to Class C under the Act. I would find it extraordinary if the Board thought that the UK Government should have ignored the science and based our decision on what people in some quarters might think".

Government's Updated Drug Strategy 2002, p.22: http://www.drugs.gov.uk/publication-search/drug-strategy/updated-drug-strategy-2002.pdf?view=Binary

"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".

 

HM Government’s drug education website ‘Talk to Frank’ states:

·         Alcohol can play a major part in many people’s social lives. That’s why it is easy to forget that it’s actually a very powerful drug …

·         Tobacco comes from the leaves of the tobacco plant. It contains a drug called nicotine which is highly addictive

 

The Department for Education and Skills – Drugs: Guidance for Schools:

 

"Terminology: 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 by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971)
- all legal drugs, including alcohol, tobacco".

 

Consumers’ right to informed choice respected by Government - tobacco & alcohol strategies:

Tobacco White paper Smoking Kills: http://www.archive.official-documents.co.uk/document/cm41/4177/chap-01.htm

1.26   Currently, well over a quarter of the people of Britain smoke. The Government fully recognises their right to choose to do so. We will not in any of our proposals infringe upon that right. …Government is determined not to infringe upon people's rights to make free and informed choices.

National Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England: http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/strategy/news/press_releases/2004/040315.asp

it is vital that individuals can make informed and responsible decisions about their own levels of alcohol consumption. Everyone needs to be able to balance their right to enjoy a drink with the potential risks to their own - and others' - health and wellbeing.

 

Choosing health – making healthy choices 2004 White Paper

http://www.dh.gov.uk/prod_consum_dh/idcplg?IdcService=GET_FILE&dID=2344&Rendition=Web

Tony Blair’s Preface

This Government is committed to sustaining an ethos of fairness and equity – good health for everyone in England. We are already taking action throughout society to tackle the causes of ill health and reduce inequalities.

… changes need to be based on choices, not direction. We are clear that Government cannot – and should not – pretend it can ‘make’ the population healthy. It is for people to make the healthy choice if they wish to.

John Reid’s Preface:

… people told us that they want to take responsibility for their own health. They were clear that many choices they made – such as what to eat or drink, whether to smoke, whether to have sex and what contraception to use – were very personal issues. People do not want Government, or anyone else, to make these decisions for them.

Choosing health sets out key principles for that support. Our starting point is informed choice. People cannot be instructed to follow a healthy lifestyle in a democratic society. Health improvement depends upon people’s motivation and their willingness to act on it.

While we respect individuals’ rights to make their own choices, we need to respond to public concern that some people’s choices can cause a nuisance and have a damaging impact on other people’s health. We need to strike the right balance between allowing people to decide their own actions, while not allowing those actions to unduly inconvenience or damage the health of others.

 

Drugs Bill 2005, Commons Second Reading, Charles Clarke:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmhansrd/cm050118/debtext/50118-05.htm

I want to make unequivocally clear the Government's view that it is the drug abuser who threatens the civil liberties of the law-abiding citizen, rather than the reverse, which is why we need to take legal powers to ensure that the state can prevent and inhibit drug abuse. … No one has a right to abuse drugs, especially when we see the consequences of that abuse in so many aspects of crime. …if the choice is between the civil rights of a drug abuser or of those who are abused by the drug abuser, I choose the civil rights of those who are abused by the drug abuser.

…There have been two or three interventions from Labour Members and from the Opposition that suggest a tolerance or understanding of people who use those drugs for their own pleasure, or whatever they do. I do not share that view in any respect whatsoever.

 

Drugs Bill 2005, Joint Committee on Human Rights: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200405/jtselect/jtrights/47/4706.htm

3.8 Once again we regret the need to have to point out the inadequacy of the Explanatory Notes in relation to the Bill's implications for human rights. The Notes merely recite the fact that a statement of compatibility has been given. They do not identify the Convention rights engaged nor provide any reasoning in support of the bald statement of compatibility. This does not inspire confidence that human rights compatibility has been a matter of central concern in the formulation of the policy and the drafting of the legislation.

PM’s speech on Compensation Culture, 2005:

http://www.number-10.gov.uk/output/Page7562.asp

In my view, we are in danger of having a wholly disproportionate attitude to the risks we should expect to run as a normal part of life. This is putting pressure on policy-making, not just in Government but in regulatory bodies, on local government, public services, in Europe and across parts of the private sector - to act to eliminate risk in a way that is out of all proportion to the potential damage. The result is a plethora of rules, guidelines, responses to 'scandals' of one nature or another that ends up having utterly perverse consequences.

 

EMCDDA, Guidelines for the risk assessment of new synthetic drugs, 1999:

http://www.emcdda.europa.eu/index.cfm?fuseaction=public.AttachmentDownload&nNodeID=16782&slanguageISO=EN

Chapter 1 Basic principles for risk assessment

In accepting its assignment to assess the risks of new synthetic drugs, the EMCDDA's Scientific Committee adopted the following basic principles.

1. Consider a dual definition of 'risk'.

The concept of 'risk' should be understood in its dual sense, which includes both the element of probability that some harm may occur (usually defined as 'risk') and the degree of seriousness of such a harm (usually defined as 'hazard'). If possible, both elements should be evaluated in the final phase of the risk-assessment process. In addition, and where feasible, a risk-benefit ratio should be assessed for each candidate drug.

2. Consider the risks of a drug, independently of its legal status.

The first phase of the scientific risk assessment of a particular drug should be carried out independently of its legal status.

3. Consider a wide range of options for control.

Consideration of appropriate measures and possible consequences of controlling new synthetic drugs should cover a wide range of options and should not necessarily imply prohibition and law enforcement.

4. Consider scientific evidence on a new synthetic drug in relation to better-known drugs.

Since scientific evidence on new synthetic drugs will, by definition, often be limited, it will thus be necessary to evaluate the possible risks of these drugs with reference to similar known drugs. Consistent with principle 2 above, such comparisons need not be restricted to illegal drugs but may include legal substances with similar chemical characteristics, pharmacological actions or psychological and behavioural effects, or which offer relevant insights into the social risks presented by the drug. Similarly, when assessing the possible consequences of prohibition, taking note of principle 3, it may be appropriate to examine relevant examples of control models involving legal or illegal substances. Consider weighting separately the issues of reliability and relevance.

In the final evaluation, the issues of reliability of information (quality) as well as the relevance of the specific risk issues involved (health and social risks and consequences of prohibition) should be weighted separately. The final policy consequences of risk assessment should be decided within the framework of national or local drug policy priorities.

 

US Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Technologies for Understanding and Preventing Substance Abuse and Addiction, 1994.

http://www.wws.princeton.edu/cgi-bin/byteserv.prl/~ota/disk1/1994/9435/9435.PDF

P.13: Box 1-3: Drugs and Discrimination. In America, tensions between the majority and various minorities often hinge on concerns raised by drug use. The groups change over time and place, but the dividing issues remain remarkably similar. Those in power decide which drugs are legal and how rules should be enforced. Minorities charge that unfair policies result from prejudice, ignorance, and hypocrisy.

1850, Boston: Impoverished Irish Immigrants brought the tradition of drinking whiskey with them. In American cities, people often blamed whiskey for neighborhood quarrels. In the mid-19th century, clashes with Irish Immigrants occurred so often that police vans came to be known by the term “paddy wagons”.

1880, San Francisco: Fear of immigrant Chinese often focused on their recreational use of opium. In 1875, San Francisco outlawed opium smoking which most residents associated exclusively with the Chinese. This citywide ban became nationwide

in 1909.

1882, Ohio: German immigrants’ beer drinking often brought Germans into conflict with temperance advocates. Cincinnati’s lively German community gathered at beer gardens on Sundays to sing, dance, drink, and argue politics. In 1882, Ohio’s governor denounced Germans as “Sabbath breakers, criminals, and free thinkers”.

1930s, Colorado, New Mexico: The Southwest welcomed Mexican migrants during labor shortages but during the Depression, anxiety over competition for jobs shifted to wildly exaggerated fears of the effects of marijuana use customary among Mexicans.

To placate fears, Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which prohibited recreational use of the drug.

 

US Supreme Court, FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. (98-1152)

http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/98-1152.ZO.html

the FDA found that, because of the high level of addiction among tobacco users, a ban would likely be “dangerous.” Id., at 44413. In particular, current tobacco users could suffer from extreme withdrawal, the health care system and available pharmaceuticals might not be able to meet the treatment demands of those suffering from withdrawal, and a black market offering cigarettes even more dangerous than those currently sold legally would likely develop. Ibid. The FDA therefore concluded that, “while taking cigarettes and smokeless tobacco off the market could prevent some people from becoming addicted and reduce death and disease for others, the record does not establish that such a ban is the appropriate public health response under the act.” Id., at 44398.

 

UN/WHO quotes

 

Commentary to 1971 UN drug Convention, 1976, p.48:

http://www.senliscouncil.net/documents/Room_abstract

The official Commentary on the 1971 Convention acknowledges that “alcohol appears to be covered” by the  Convention’s classification criterion since it has the “capacity to produce a state of dependence”, but argues that “the ‘public health and social problem’ which alcohol presents is not of such a nature as to warrant its being placed under ‘international control’”. Besides, the Commentary adds, “the 1971 Conference … did not intend to apply the Vienna Convention to alcohol”.

 

WHO & legal status:

http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/en/

WHO is the only agency dealing with all psychoactive substances, regardless of their legal status.

WHO’s mandate in the area of psychoactive substance use includes:

Prevention and reduction of the negative health and social consequences of psychoactive substance use;

Reduction of the demand for non-medical use of psychoactive substances;

Assessment of psychoactive substances so as to advise the United Nations with regard to their regulatory control.

 

WHO’s 28th Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (1993):

http://whqlibdoc.who.int/trs/WHO_TRS_836.pdf

3.2.4 Public health approaches to all psychoactive drugs, including alcohol and tobacco, are increasingly being viewed in a common frame.

3.3.1 The strengthened network of transportation has also facilitated migration. … While in itself migration has not been an important mechanism for drug transportation, it has contributed to the increased contact between cultures with very different norms and understandings of psychoactive drug use.

4.1 [p.15] The social consequences of drug use are largely determined by social and environmental factors, such as the legal status of the drug. The possibility of imprisonment or other penalties only arises where a pattern of purchase or use is defined as illegal. The legal status of the drug will also affect the pattern and mode of administration, with illegality tending to push a drug into more concentrated forms and its use into mote life-threatening modes of administration.

5.1.2 …the Committee discussed the advisability of prohibiting under the international conventions plant products containing psychoactive substances that are traditionally used by indigenous populations. … However, the Committee felt that the social problems resulting from the prohibition of these products under the international controls might outweigh the health benefits. Several instances were cited in which prohibition of drugs with traditional patterns of use had caused unforeseen problems. The Committee suggested that, if regulatory control of these products was considered appropriate, a national control system might be used to regulate the market, such as many countries use for alcohol. …the Committee recommended that WHO should consider … making recommendations concerning international control provisions.

5.6 The structure of public opinion about drugs often undermines the effectiveness of rational drug control policies. For example, the widespread acceptability of cigarette smoking in almost all societies has made tobacco smoking a familiar and companionable behaviour, and one that can be fitted into almost all routine daily activities. In many societies, drinking has also become established as a socially acceptable behaviour, often associated with other activities, and so familiar that it may not even be noticed. … Conversely, a lack of knowledge about illicit drugs can contribute to excessive public concern and lead to ill-considered policy-making.

8. [p.31]: Government policies may also be inconsistent – the promotion of alcohol and tobacco may be unrestricted while the use of drugs that have less serious consequences may be illegal.

A rational drug control policy is an essential tool for fostering health promotion, irrespective of the legal status of individual drugs, and the absence of such a policy will result in considerable public health costs.

9.1.1. …[WHO has an] integrated approach to the problems presented by the use of tobacco and the harmful use of alcohol and other psychoactive drugs, and [the Committee] recommended that prevention and treatment services should, wherever possible, be concerned with the harm produced by all these drugs.

9.1.3. Attention must be paid not only to illicit drugs, but also to alcohol and tobacco, medicinal psychoactive drugs and volatile solvents to ensure a reduction in health problems due to illicit drug use will not be offset by an increase in problems due to the use of other drugs.

Annex deleted from final document due to procedural anomalies:

WHO's contribution on drug use to the report United Nations action in the field of human rights

Drug users represent a specific population in which there is a high risk that human rights and fundamental freedoms will not be respected. WHO recognizes that violations of the human rights of drug users may be considered under the following groupings:

* Persecution: in some countries, there may be specific legislation that denies drug users their basic rights, and may actually sanction the active contravention of human rights through oppression, mistreatment and harassment;

* Discrimination: in many countries, unwritten policies and cultural norms exist which sanction discriminatory practices against drug users; these may take the form of restrictions on freedom of movement (such as obtaining passports and visas), access to employment and access to quality services; and

Although a footnote stated that this was "reproduced from United Nations action in the field of human rights. New York, United Nations, 1993", this publication had in fact been delayed beyond the middle of 1994, and it is reported that the text quoted in the Annex was removed from it.

·         United Nations International Drug Control Programme:
"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".

·         UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Forty-second session, ‘Youth and drugs: a global overview’, 1999:
"Drug abuse continues to emerge as a strategy among youth to cope with the problems of unemployment, neglect, violence and sexual abuse. Various explanations can be offered for the high prevalence of cannabis use among young people, explanations that include … a perception that the recreational use of cannabis has less harmful effects than the use of legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco".

·         Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Drug misuse and the environment, 1998:

"Deprivation gives rise to personal distress and psychological discomfort of a kind which can result in depressive illness as well as lesser and more amorphous types of mood disturbance. In such circumstances mind-acting drugs (including illicit drugs) can be used as self-medication to relieve distress or as a substitute source of excitement and good feelings”.

The World Health Organisation:

·         "WHO has always advocated a combined approach to reduce the harm resulting from the use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco".

·         "For every dollar spent on treatment 7 dollars are returned in cost-savings. Treatment is proven to be cost-effective in both developed and developing countries. It costs less than imprisonment. 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".

·         World Health Organisation’s ‘Myths and facts for policy makers’ 2001:
“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”.

·         “At the Ninth International Conference of Drug Regulatory Authorities in 1999 WHO Director General Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland … called upon international food and drug regulators to bring cigarettes and tobacco industry products under the same type of regulatory frameworks as other drugs”.

 

US threaten WHO funding:

After a WHO report concluded that the “use of coca leaves appears to have no negative health effects and has positive, therapeutic, sacred and social functions for indigenous Andean populations,”[WHO/UNICRI Cocaine Project, 5 March 1995 (unpublished briefing kit)] the U.S. government accused the WHO of “undermin[ing] the efforts of the international community to stamp out the illegal cultivation and production of coca.” The U.S. government also threatened, “If WHO activities relating to drugs fail to reinforce proven drug-control approaches, funds for the relevant programs should be curtailed.” [WHA48/1995/REC/3. Forty-Eighth World Health Assembly, Summary Records and Reports of Committees, Geneva, 1-12 May 1995]

 

United Nations:

·         UN’s ‘Declaration on the Guiding Principles of Drug Demand Reduction’, 1998:
“14. Governments should consider providing … as an alternative to conviction or punishment … that abusers of drugs should undergo treatment, education, aftercare, rehabilitation and social reintegration.
5. Programmes to reduce the demand for drugs should be part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce the demand for all substances of abuse.
9. Demand reduction programmes should be based on a regular assessment of the nature and magnitude of drug use and drug-related problems in the population …using similar definitions, indicators and procedures to assess the drug situation”.

·         The UN's Political Declaration:
2. We "recognize that action against the world drug problem is a common and shared responsibility requiring an integrated and balanced approach in full conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law, and particularly with full respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs of States, and all human rights and fundamental freedoms".
4. We "undertake to ensure that women and men benefit equally, and without any discrimination, from strategies directed against the world drug problem, through their involvement in all stages of programmes and policy-making".
7. We "affirm our determination to provide the necessary resources for treatment and rehabilitation and to enable social reintegration to restore dignity and hope to children, youth, women and men who have become drug abusers".

 

·         UN’s 1997 The Regulation - Legalization debate, p.198:
“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”.

 

 

EU:

·         Free trade & competition: “The rules on competition are intended to ensure that a European economic area based on market forces can function effectively. The European Community's competition policy (Articles 81 to 89 of the EC Treaty, formerly 85 to 94) is based on five main principles:
- the prohibition of concerted practices, agreements and associations between undertakings which may affect trade between Member States and prevent, restrict or distort competition within the common market;
- the prohibition of abuse of a dominant position within the common market, in so far as it may affect trade between Member States;
- supervision of aid granted by the Member States, or through State resources in whatever form whatsoever, which threatens to distort competition by favouring certain undertakings or the production of certain goods;
- preventive supervision of mergers with a European dimension, by approving or prohibiting the envisaged alliances;
- liberalisation of certain sectors where public or private enterprises have hitherto evolved monopolistically, such as telecommunications, transport or energy”.

 

 

 

The Guardian, January 29 2004:

"The 1970 cabinet minutes also confirm that the original decision to classify illegal drugs into three classes, A, B and C, was based on political expediency rather than any scientific assessment of their harm".

 

Beckley Foundation: Colin Blakemore, Chief Executive Medical Research Council:

·         “it is biased by the novelty of drugs and by media attention and public opinion”.

·         “the present classification of drugs … reflects the prejudice and misconceptions of an era in which drugs were placed in arbitrary categories with notable, often illogical, consequences”.

 

Members of Parliament:   

 

9 Nov 2001: cannabis reclassification debate:

·         Owen Jones: “The hon. Gentleman speaks about the evil of people selling cannabis, but ... did it ever cross his mind that there was an enormous hypocrisy in the law that categorised those people as deserving 14 years in jail, while someone who sold tobacco, which kills huge numbers of people, got, if he was successful, a peerage or a Queen's award for industry?”

·         Wishart: “many are irritated by what they see as the hypocrisy at the heart of our debate. We are prepared to legislate and launch campaigns on illegal drugs, but are not prepared to deal with the much more serious problems caused by alcohol abuse and alcohol dependency”.

·        Prisk: “we should address the hypocrisy—as it seems to most young people—of the way in which we deal with alcohol, prescribed drugs, tobacco and cannabis. We must also ensure that any drugs strategy is founded firmly on a balance between an informed freedom of choice for adults and the promotion of personal responsibility”.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr., April 16, 1963, Letter from a Birmingham Jail

An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. That is sameness made legal.

 

…in any civilised society, it is every citizen's responsibility to obey just laws. But at the same time, it is every citizen's responsibility to disobey unjust laws”.