UK evidence of Drug Discrimination



2003, Prime Minister's Strategy Unit's Drugs Report, Phase 1, p.7:

1890's: association of use of drugs with immigrant communities viewed as threatening; inspires greater prohibition of drugs, led by the US.

1968, Hallucinogens Sub-committee of the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence, The Wootton report:

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.

Wootton Report - Appendix 1: A Review of the International Clinical Literature
Prohibition and prevention

Some urge that if alcohol and tobacco can be tolerated and taxed, there is no logical ground for abstaining from doing likewise with cannabis (onto which, they suggest, an unwarranted moralistic stigma has been pinned); they believe that if a drug, such as alcohol or cannabis, is generally and readily obtainable in a given society, most people learn to use it in moderation, while the psychopathic minority who use it to excess would do so with some available alternative drug anyway. The significant debacle of alcohol prohibition in the United States has a bearing on the argument for treating cannabis like alcohol. A well established, socially permissible drug is evidently ineradicable by total prohibition whereas a comparative newcomer like cannabis in Western countries, is a weakling which might be kept in check by firm action, some suppose.

2000, Police Foundation, Drugs and the law - Independent Inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act ('Runciman Report'), Chap 3:

1. In introducing the legislation in 1970, the Home Secretary, Mr. Callaghan, said:
“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”.

34 Given the ranking that alcohol and tobacco have in the order of dangerous drugs, it is an obvious question why they and drugs controlled under the MDA should not be treated similarly: either alcohol and tobacco should be added to the appropriate Classes under the MDA or drugs that are no more dangerous than they should be treated as alcohol and tobacco are now treated. We resist this argument. In the first place, it is simply a fact that the use of alcohol and tobacco is so widespread and familiar that an attempt to prohibit their supply by law would lead to widespread resentment and law-breaking (as happened with the Prohibition experiment in the United States from 1920-33). Conversely, the present law against the drugs controlled by the MDA enjoys widespread public acceptance, with the exception of certain aspects of its operation against cannabis.
35 The cases of alcohol and tobacco are in any case not the same. Smoking tobacco is widely regarded as a bad and dangerous habit. Many who smoke wish that they could stop and measures are taken to prevent smoking in public places, to limit advertising and so on. It is a reasonable social aim that the use of tobacco should eventually disappear, even though that aim cannot appropriately be pursued by legal prohibition. Alcohol is a more complicated case. Although it is a dangerous drug and causes enormous social costs and harm, it is also used by many people moderately and non-destructively. It is strictly the misuse of alcohol that needs to be prevented, and while the ways in which this can best be done may be debated, control under the MDA is not one of them.

2002, Home Affairs Committee, The Government’s Drug Policy: is it working?:

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?"

2002, Government reply to the Home Affairs Committee’s Government’s Drug Policy: Is it working?:

HAC report had 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".

2004, Sentencing Advisory Panel’s advice on New Sentences – Criminal Justice Act 2003:

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.