Government's Drugs Policy

Note: By law all children in the UK are taught, in accordance with the United Nations' definition, that alcohol and tobacco are drugs.

Individual, industry and Government responsibility for drug regulation: comparison
Does Government drugs policy exclude alcohol & tobacco because of scientific evidence?
What principles underlie the Government's drugs policy?
What evidence is there for the effectiveness of Government policy?
Government believes drug prohibition deters use of illegal drugs but would increase crime for legal drugs
How has science in general been misused in Government policy making?
Cannabis reclassification case study - exposing the misuse of science in drugs policy making


Individual, industry and Government responsibility for drug regulation: comparison of Government quotes

  Alcohol Tobacco Illegal drugs
Individuals Their own choices about what they drink, where and how. The consequences of those choices, both as experienced by themselves and in their impact on others. Individuals cease to be responsible only where they are genuinely unable to exercise that choice (for example those who are mentally ill) or could not be reasonably expected to exercise it (which is why we protect the under-18s in legislation). Intoxication does not relieve an individual of responsibility for their actions. We recognise that Government action in areas of personal choice like smoking is a difficult and a sensitive issue. We believe that people should have a choice about whether or not to smoke but they should also be properly informed. Smoking is not against the law. We do not intend to make smoking unlawful. We are not banning smoking. Just as the Government is determined not to infringe upon people's rights to make free and informed choices, it is also determined to ensure that the responsibilities of smokers to people who choose not to smoke are carried out. All controlled drugs are dangerous and no one should take them. To protect themselves and to enable them to make the decision not to take illegal drugs, young people need accurate information about the dangers and harmful effects of different drugs and why they are illegal.
Industry Giving accurate information about the products it sells - and warning about the consequences. Supplying its products in a way which minimises harm. Work with national agencies and local partners to tackle the harms which the supply of its product creates. It is ultimately for the producers of age-restricted goods to introduce [proof of age] cards as it is in their interests to have a card that aids the legal sale of these products. Reducing the supply of illegal drugs and tackling the trafficking of all drugs is key. Heavily penalising those caught dealing or drug trafficking with maximum sentences ranging from 14 years (for Class B and C drugs) to life imprisonment (for Class A).
Government Ensuring that consumers receive clear information, both through its own efforts and through working with the industry. Supporting those who suffer adverse consequences. Protecting individuals from harm caused by the alcohol misuse of others – for example, through effective enforcement of the duties on enforcement agencies. Protecting against harms caused by the supply of alcohol where appropriate, and for regulating to the minimum necessary to achieve this. Ensuring a fair balance between the interests of all stakeholders. Tobacco products need to be regulated more effectively than at present. Legislation is used only where required. The Government does not believe that a system of negative licensing to target retailers who partake in underage sales is necessary. Where possible, we have looked for partnerships: with industry on a proof-of-age system, and with the licensed trade on smoking in public places. Allegations that British American Tobacco plc has been involved in smuggling [may lead to] the launching of a criminal investigation. Drugs misuse is a national problem requiring fairness and consistency in our response. 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. All drugs are harmful and enforcement against all illegal substances will continue.


Exclusion of traditional drugs results in inconsistent and disproportionate drug laws:

Flint (Home Office): "Our drugs laws and our educational messages to young people must reflect the relative harms of drugs, in accordance with the available scientific and medical advice, if they are to be credible".

Paul Flynn MP: "Does the Home Secretary agree that alcohol is the hardest of all hard drugs?" Straw (HO): "Alcohol, when abused, can be a very hard drug, but, taken in moderation, people can enjoy it and it is part of society's culture. I do not to believe that there should be a competition for us to determine which drug does the greatest damage. We should produce a sensible and proportionate approach to all the drugs that can cause harm in our society".

Clarke (HO): "The Government's policy on all legal and illegal drugs should be motivated by a desire to reduce use, whether we are talking about tobacco, alcohol or other drugs".

Clarke (HO): "The Government keep drug misuse patterns in this country under review. By statute, the responsibility for providing the expert advice that informs that process rests with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs". Harris: "We [Lib Dems] believe that drugs policy should include tobacco and alcohol. The committee advising the Government on these things should have a wider remit. The current situation is nonsense".

Chairman (Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry The Government’s Drugs Policy: Is it working?): "Why are alcohol and tobacco not integrated into the drugs strategy?" Jenkins (HO): "…any strategy has to take account of that societal attitude". Hogg (HO): "...we are signed up to a number of UN conventions … which actually states that supply and production of defined drugs, which broadly speaking are the ones defined in the 1971 Act and subsequent regulations, should be a criminal offence".

Chairman (HAC Committee): "... shortly after your appointment as Home Secretary you did indicate a willingness to review the assumptions on which our drugs policy was based. Have you come to any conclusions?" Blunkett (HO): "Yes, I have come to the conclusion that it is necessary to clarify this for the purposes of ... the mature debate that I indicated in the early summer was necessary, actually to have a much clearer picture of what government policy will be towards some of the more controversial areas. I want to make it absolutely clear that the message from Government will be "Don't take drugs of any kind, they are dangerous and they will damage you." It is also absolutely clear and necessary to have credibility, consistency and clarity in relation to those policies, therefore I want to combine with colleagues across Government programmes in relation to education, geared to an aid to young people, that are both credible to young people and are targeted and focussed on the main risk that they face, namely the use of Class A drugs".

Killen (HO): "...the Home Secretary said that decisions should be made based on the science and that should be kept under review. The Home Secretary made his views very clear to you last week that all drugs are harmful. It is therefore right to keep them within the criminal system. ...the Home Secretary wants to represent better the difference between the harm caused by class A drugs and by cannabis. He has therefore asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to look at that and crucial to the advice they give him will be the science and level of harm which cannabis causes. Therefore the sanctions which will ultimately be put in place against cannabis will be based on that level of harm. comes down to the degree of harm that drug causes. That should be the basis of our classification and that should be the basis for how it is treated within the criminal justice system".


Principles of Government's drug policy:

Government’s 10 year strategy to tackle drugs:

"The Underlying Principles of The Strategy:
Drug problems do not occur in isolation. They are often tied in with other social problems. The Government is tackling inequalities through the largest-ever programme to get people off benefit and into work and a series of reforms in the welfare state, education, health, criminal justice and the economy. And a new Social Exclusion Unit is looking at many of the problems often associated with drug taking such as school exclusions, truancy, rough sleeping and poor housing. It is important to remember these connections, and that key results in other areas of activity, such as general take-up rates for further and higher education and employment, relate clearly to the development of this strategy.
Evidence. Drug misuse can be a highly-charged subject. Learning about an illicit activity can be difficult but our strategy must be based on accurate, independent research, approached in a level-headed, analytical fashion.
Joint Action. Partnership is not an end in itself, and can be an excuse for blurring responsibilities and inactivity. But the evidence is that joint action - if managed effectively - has a far greater impact on the complex drugs problem than disparate activities.
Consistency of Action. While activities must relate to local circumstances and priorities, drugs misuse is a national problem requiring fairness and consistency in our response.
Effective Communication. We need to be clear and consistent in the messages we send to young people and to society in particular, the importance of reinforcing at every opportunity that drug-taking can be harmful.
Accountability. Through the Coordinator's Annual Report and Plan of Action Against Drugs, we can dispassionately and objectively track progress. The structures, resources and performance mechanisms set out in this report exist solely for that purpose, so that we can be sure our achievements are real".

Government’s Updated Drug Strategy 2002:

"This updated strategy sets out a range of policies and interventions which concentrate on the most dangerous drugs, the most damaged communities and the individuals whose addiction and chaotic lifestyles are most harmful, both to themselves and others. We have no intention of legalising any illicit drug. All controlled drugs are dangerous and nobody should take them.
The most effective way of reducing the harm drugs cause is to persuade all potential users, but particularly the young, not to use drugs. Success will only be achieved if we stop young people from developing drug problems, reduce the prevalence of drugs on our streets and reduce the numbers of those with existing drug problems by getting them into effective treatment".


Evidence and Government drugs policy effectiveness

Killen (HO): "Pre-1998 one of the problems there was that we did not have a systematic research programme on drugs and we have had to build that up".

Ainsworth (HO): "…we should not forget that, before 1998, there was no strategy at all. There was no evidence base whatsoever".

When asked "what evidence do the Government have to show that confiscation and the prosecution of drugs suppliers have made any difference to the amount of drugs use in this country?" Bob Ainsworth replied "As the law to date has been so relatively ineffective, I doubt whether it has made much difference at all".

Evidence to Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry The Government’s Drugs Policy: Is it working? -

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?"

Cameron: "Has the Home Office done, or do you intend to do, any studies looking at the benefits and disbenefits of legalising some or all drugs?" Ainsworth (HO): "There have been some attempts to scope the issues but it would be very difficult to actually pin down the whole costs of such a move of policy. That is really a matter for ministers rather than for officials".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin): "We have clearly to inform our drug strategy by evaluation and evidence, and understanding the effectiveness of the drug policies, or different components of it at both national and local level".


Government believes drug prohibition deters use of illegal drugs but would increase crime for legal drugs - splitting the costs & benefits of prohibition

Ainsworth (HO): "Smoking is the greatest single cause of preventable illness and premature death in the UK, and is responsible for around 120,000 deaths every year. Since evidence shows that demand for cigarettes is affected by price, it follows that high tax levels can play an important role in reducing overall tobacco consumption and dissuading people from taking up the habit. However, because the habit has a four hundred-year history of social acceptance in the Western world, the Government cannot simply ban it although it does encourage people to stop smoking. The Government believes that adults are entitled to make an informed choice and therefore ensures that full information on the dangers of tobacco are freely available"

Flint (HO): "Owing to the wide use of these substances over a long period of history in modern society and the general social acceptance that has resulted, it is not a realistic or practical option. To criminalise the supply and use of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine would inevitably result in widespread smuggling, law breaking and other associated criminal activity".

In fact prohibition of any activity always reduces that activity and always increases crime: those who comply with the law stop the activity; those who do not are classed as criminals. These are merely the benefits and costs of prohibition. Government identifies benefits only with illegal drugs and costs only with legal drugs, failing to assess the costs and benefits for each.


Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology Notes 196 & 220:

POST Note 196 says scientists have accused Government of "using science selectively or to:

• justify predetermined decisions or positions

• erroneously frame issues as predominantly scientific (e.g. in substituting for moral or value judgements)

• act as a scapegoat when things go wrong

• offer undue certainty and reassurance while critical uncertainties are downplayed

• delay making contentious or complex decisions".

POST Note 220 says of the use of the Precautionary Principle that it should ensure:

"• ongoing risk research and monitoring

• transparent consideration of multiple options, including the risks of action and inaction

• genuine engagement with minority and lay concerns

• a shift in the burden of proof for safety to proponents of new technologies, while acknowledging the impossibility of proving zero risk".


Cannabis reclassification and the role of scientific evidence and non-scientific factors:

Scientific evidence:

  • Royal Society says decision should not be based on scientific evidence alone

  • The Lancet says decision should not be based on medical evidence alone

  • Government:

    Concerns about evidence confusion:



    Scientific advice:

    The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’ The Classification of cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 says "In October 2001 the Home Secretary asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (the ‘Council’) to review the classification of cannabis preparations in the light of current scientific evidence". The report concludes that although "the high use of cannabis is not associated with major health problems for the individual or society", "cannabis is not a harmless substance" but "is less harmful than other substances … within Class B" of the MDA and "the Council therefore recommends the reclassification of all cannabis preparations to Class C under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971".
    There is nothing scientific about this policy recommendation suggesting continued prohibition is a proportionate response to the risks of cannabis use. It is not scientifically possible for a substance to be harmless. There is no assessment of the option to remove cannabis from the MDA which would result in greater proportionality with alcohol and tobacco regulations. This suggests that non-scientific factors underlie their recommendation to continue criminalising 4 million citizens for consuming a drug whose risks, according to the ACMD’s scientific evidence, are less than those of the legally available drugs, alcohol and tobacco.

    Select Committee on Science and Technology’s Cannabis: The Scientific and Medical Evidence distinguishes scientific from other forms of evidence outside the Committee’s remit but suggests scientific evidence alone justifies prohibition.
    "1.5 We have also considered whether the continued prohibition of recreational use is justified on the basis of the scientific evidence of adverse effects. Recreational use raises other issues besides the adverse effects of the drug; these are outside our remit "to consider science and technology", belonging instead to the realms of law, sociology and even philosophy, and we have not considered them".
    "8.18 It is believed in some quarters that the current absolute prohibition on the recreational use of cannabis and its derivatives is not justified by the adverse consequences for the user and the public. On the evidence before us, we disagree. On the contrary, we endorse the Government's statement in Tackling Drugs: "The more evidence becomes available about the risks of...cannabis,...the more discredited the notion that [it is] harmless" (paragraph 6.16)".
    Such endorsement is not scientific. As with the ACMD the evidence that cannabis is not harmless is taken to be evidence that prohibition is the most effective intervention – a disproportionate and inconsistent precautionary principle that is not supported by evidence, scientific or otherwise.

    In contrast the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Sciences’s joint submission to the House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee’s Cannabis: the scientific and medical evidence says:
    "6. How strong is the scientific evidence in favour of maintaining prohibition of recreational use?
    6.1 Under this heading our concern is only to show how science can illuminate discussion of the questions rather than ourselves push any particular view. We believe that science can indeed throw light on how this question can be rationally approached and would like to see current public debate much better informed than is at present the case. However, we would at the end of the day expect any such decision to be determined by social and political considerations and that is not territory which we wish to enter.
    6.6 Within the perspective of what the health sciences have to tell, removal of prohibition on cannabis would have to be described as a voyage into the unknown. Some added harm and some added costs would undoubtedly result. Whether the impact on the nation's health and safety would be relatively small or whether the consequences would be a damaging endemic of multiple and costly harms or something between these two extremes, is in our view a question which cannot be resolved by reference to existing scientific evidence. It is up to society and government to decide whether there are imperatives that make that risk worth taking, but risky it would be".

    The Lancet agrees with the Royal Society’s view that scientific evidence alone cannot be used to justify regulatory policy saying "On the medical evidence available, moderate indulgence in cannabis has little ill effect on health, and decisions to ban or to legalise cannabis should therefore be based on other considerations".

    Government explanation for reclassification:

    Based on scientific evidence -

    The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesperson said the "Government's decision was the result of advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, a group of scientific and medical experts".

    David Blunkett: "…the message to young people and families must be open, honest and believable. That is why I asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to review the classification of cannabis. It has recommended that the current classification is disproportionate in relation to the harmfulness and nature of other controlled drugs. The council made it clear that greater differentiation between drugs that kill and drugs that cause harm would be both scientifically justified and educationally sensible".

    Bob Ainsworth (HO): "The medical evidence is that cannabis should be in the "C" classification and not the "B" classification. So we fully intend to follow through and bring that into legislation".

    Bob Ainsworth said in the Parliamentary Debate on Cannabis Reclassification on 9 Nov 2001"if reclassification is warranted by an honest scientific assessment of the relative harms, it would enhance the credibility of our drugs laws as a whole, and it would help us to deliver our message on drugs to young people and better to align public policy and criminal justice practice".

    Caroline Flint (HO): "We are not seeking to legalise cannabis by reclassifying it; we are trying to have an important debate based on scientific evidence that looks at the relative harm caused by different types of controlled drugs".

    Flint: "…we have taken into account the work of the statutory advisory committee, which provides the scientific evidence on which to base our decisions. Winnick: "Is not it also a fact that the last survey undertaken showed that more than 120,000 deaths in a single year were caused by smoking, in addition to the deaths caused through alcohol abuse?" Flint: "We are trying to debate the different levels of harm produced by controlled drugs. …the whole point of having three categories of classification is to assess scientifically the relative harms of different sorts of drugs. We must be honest and credible and rely on science, not prejudice. Our drugs laws and educational messages to young people must reflect the scientific assessment of the advisory council if they are to be credible, convincing and, ultimately, effective". (more on ‘Dangerous Drugs’ debate below)

    Rosie Winterton (DoH): "...the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs keeps the evidence of harm from all controlled drugs under constant review. …the evidence is examined by the advisory council, which is independent. Reclassification took place only as a result of the advice received from that council".

    "The Government accepted the Council's recommendation for the following reasons:

    - Our drugs laws should accurately reflect the relative harms of drugs in accordance with the available scientific and medical advice. The Government recognises that cannabis is not as harmful to health as other Class B drugs like the amphetamines.

    - The Government believes that all controlled drugs, including cannabis, are harmful and that no one should take them. It also believes that having the law reflect the relative harmfulness of drugs accurately is vital to this message being open, honest and balanced".

    Home Office letter to UN’s International Narcotics Control Board defending cannabis reclassification based on scientific evidence:

    "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".

    Based on social and political factors -

    David Blunkett announcing to the Home Affairs Committee his decision to ask ACMD about cannabis reclassification from B to C said "I shall therefore be putting to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs a proposal that we should re-categorise cannabis to 'C' rather than 'B', thereby allowing police to concentrate their resources on class 'A' drugs"

    Tony Blair said "The purpose of what we have done recently [cannabis reclassification], however, is to ensure that the police, where they need to do so, can target their main resources and activity on dealing with hard drugs".

    The Government's Updated Drug Strategy 2002 explains cannabis reclassification by saying "it is vital that the Government's message to young people is open, honest and credible. Drug laws must accurately reflect the relative harms of different drugs if they are to persuade young people in particular of the dangers of misusing drugs".

    "Why has the Government reclassified cannabis? The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs advised that cannabis is harmful, but not as harmful as other Class B drugs, such as the amphetamines. Reclassification brings the law into line with this assessment, and will enable the Government to give a more credible message to young people about the relative dangers of drugs".

    Ainsworth: "The main motive behind the reclassification decision is to create a credible message that young people are prepared to listen to. They will not listen to us if we pretend that cannabis, harmful as it is, is as dangerous as heroin or crack cocaine".

    Flint: "Our drugs laws and our educational messages to young people must reflect the relative harms of drugs, in accordance with the available scientific and medical advice, if they are to be credible".

    New Scientist summary: ‘not scientific opinion’ but other factors

    Reclassification is not based upon new scientific evidence but political and social factors. New Scientist provided an objective and balanced account of the ACMD’s recommendation to reclassify cannabis saying "While making it clear that cannabis is far from benign, the report sensibly rates the substance as "substantially less harmful" than amphetamines, and less likely than alcohol and tobacco to lead to health problems. The government is certain now to downgrade cannabis from its class B list, which includes amphetamines, to class C, which includes steroids. In practice, possession of small amounts of cannabis will cease to be an arrestable offence in Britain, a move unthinkable even a few years ago. What's changed? Not scientific opinion. As long ago as 1968, Britain's then Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence concluded that cannabis was safer than amphetamines and alcohol, and imprisoning people for possessing it was disproportionate to the harm it does. The new flexibility is born of pragmatism and demographics. Police chiefs and politicians are less likely to demonise a substance they or their friends smoked in their youth. And with nearly one in five Britons aged 20 to 24 now using cannabis regularly, it's clear that the current law is useless as a deterrent and serves only to criminalise otherwise law-abiding people while eating up vast amounts of police time".

    Concerns about the confusion of scientific evidence with other forms of evidence:

    Parliament, 22 June 2004 – Trust, separating scientific from other advice & ACMD independence:

    "Bill Tynan MP: We need to separate the necessarily inexact and best guess areas of classification and law from the more certain areas of what science is saying about the harm caused by cannabis, especially to the mental health of our youth. The Advisory Council on Alcohol and Drugs cannot continue to do both. I understand its role and its advice to reclassify. However, the advice and judgments of any body often depend on the question asked and the response received.…….
    The breadth of the advisory council's role has become unsustainable. Trust in its scientific assessments has been damaged by its attempt to comment on the science and health consequences of cannabis misuse and then to urge contentious decisions to be taken on reclassification. The chronology is important. In October 2001, the Home Secretary asked it "to review the classification of cannabis preparations in the light of current scientific evidence. ……..
    I accept that some of those who are concerned about the growing health problems are ambivalent about reclassification. After the confusion and problems over the reclassification of cannabis and the discussions that have surrounded it, we need to reconsider the role of the advisory council. Perhaps it needs to be restructured so as to separate the science, enforcement and treatment aspects of its work from the wider direction of drugs policy. As a first step the statistics, information and research committee of the advisory council should consider meeting more regularly and publishing public reports. We should then consider whether to replace it with an independent scientific review body. ……..
    We need to set up an independent body to assess the health implications of drugs misuse—both by commissioning research and by bringing together other research—separately from considering the policy aspects of combating that misuse.
    I therefore urge the Minister to consider setting up a commission, separate from the advisory council, to take on that body's responsibilities for the research and science side of drugs misuse, and to accept the wider remit of informing the debate independently. By recommending cannabis reclassification as part of its current role, the advisory council has become a party to the debate. It was established in 1971, more than 30 years ago. We need to re-examine its role in a modern setting".
    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Caroline Flint) : "My hon. Friend said a lot about the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and we should remind ourselves that it is a fully independent, non-departmental public body, whose membership is drawn from a wide range of disciplines and is highly respected worldwide for the quality of its reports. The ACMD's March 2002 cannabis report clearly set out the scientific evidence for the risk of harm from cannabis. Setting cannabis in the context of other controlled drugs, the council concluded that class C was the most appropriate level of classification. As I said, the advisory council is an independent and impartial body, and it provides evidence-based advice to the Government".

    [Note Ms Flint’s statement "Setting cannabis in the context of other controlled drugs" – why not in the context of all drugs? Cannabis appears to be a significantly safer alternative intoxicant drug to alcohol.]

    ACMD governance: MDA classification and harmless drugs

    The Guardian reported that " Sir Michael Rawlins, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs …said "Quite clearly these things can't be locked into aspic for all time. If you are going down the route of having classification of drugs you do need to have an arrangement whereby they are reviewed from time to time." The council, established by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, divided drugs into the three categories. "The basis on which it did it nobody knows. The records do not explain why... The basis on which any of the things were classified is obscure from reading the minutes. They won't tell you." Any new system would try to bring "more objectivity into the whole process," Sir Michael said."

    Sir Michael Rawlins said in The Times "The classification system for drugs does not mean that any of these substances are harmless. If they were, they would not be included in the Misuse of Drugs Act".

    Government unable to review policy in line with changing scientific evidence:

    Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman: "the PMOS said that the Government's position on cannabis had not changed. We believed that cannabis was dangerous. Asked what might cause the Government to change its position, the PMOS said that the Government was acting on scientific evidence. Cannabis was a dangerous drug. Asked if it was more dangerous than alcohol, the PMOS said it was not a question of comparisons. If we knew that a particular substance was dangerous, we actively sought to discourage it. Put to him that we didn't discourage alcohol, the PMOS pointed out that there were strategies for tackling alcohol abuse which we actively pursued. Questioned as to whether the Royal Commission on drugs would be re-examined, the PMOS said that the Government's position had not changed and would not change".

    Ainsworth: "there are health problems taking cannabis both in the short-term as well as potential long-term health problems. There is not enough research done on that as of yet. That is the reason for us continuing to believe that cannabis should remain an illegal substance". Gillan: "To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what plans there are to repeat the longitudinal studies of cannabis smoking completed in the 1960s and 1970s to take account of the increased potency of today's cannabis". Flint: "We have no plans to replicate such studies. We rely upon the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which is based upon a wide-ranging review of the available research. It is the council's view that there is no clear evidence that variants of cannabis with higher levels of its main psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) cause more health problems"

    Parliamentary Debate – Dangerous Drugs (cannabis reclassification):

    Flint: "this Labour Government are absolutely right to focus on the most dangerous drugs. I can assure my hon. Friend that the Government are considering and have considered all the relevant evidence. More importantly, we have taken into account the work of the statutory advisory committee, which provides the scientific evidence on which to base our decisions. Winnick: "Is not it also a fact that the last survey undertaken showed that more than 120,000 deaths in a single year were caused by smoking, in addition to the deaths caused through alcohol abuse?" Flint: "We are trying to debate the different levels of harm produced by controlled drugs. I can tell my hon. Friend that the whole point of having three categories of classification is to assess scientifically the relative harms of different sorts of drugs. We must be honest and credible and rely on science, not prejudice. … there are many reasons why people start to take drugs, or get involved with them. Many start by smoking tobacco, or misusing alcohol. The treatment of all drugs as equally harmful and dangerous has lacked credibility with young people and devalued the educational message about its harmful effects, as hon. Members have noted. That has led to inconsistency and a lack of proper political accountability. Our drugs laws and educational messages to young people must reflect the scientific assessment of the advisory council if they are to be credible, convincing and, ultimately, effective. My point is that young people form their views about our drug laws according to the messages that they receive from people in positions of responsibility. We have not had a strategy that has worked, and in particular we have had no strategy to which young people are prepared to listen".
    "We should have three classifications of drugs. … The final classification of drugs should be tobacco and, in particular, alcohol. Tobacco kills millions, and alcohol—which, in terms of drug misuse, causes greater policing problems and probably greater criminal activity than any other single drug—is, of course, misused more by Members and by the general public than any other drug. An improved classification of drugs that identifies alcohol as a major problem along with other drugs is fundamental. We need to have a system that is credible to young people, but an expanded litany of classifications will confuse them. We try to suggest to young people that these drugs are all the same and that they should say no to drugs. Say no to which drugs? We do not mean alcohol, because that is legal at 18".

    Hughes: "Public opinion is clearly ahead of Parliament on the cannabis issue, and the credibility of politics is losing out because we are less and less in tune. ... smoking causes 120,000 deaths a year and alcohol-related diseases account for 30,000 deaths a year. We must give people the facts and counter the prejudice. We must also ensure that we have a system that keeps people up to date. We must establish an authoritative body that works in the open to keep up to date with events. Since 1994, my party has called for such a body. We originally proposed a royal commission, but that is a one-off exercise. We subsequently argued for a standing commission. I hold to the view that we need an authoritative, independent body. We should treat recreational drug users as normal people who use such drugs in the same way as alcohol or tobacco, which are also used, for better or worse, as recreational drugs. There is evidence that cannabis is harmful, but less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. It is therefore not logical to treat the personal use of cannabis as a crime when we allow people to use tobacco and alcohol. Many people now say precisely that and act accordingly, and that brings the law into disrepute. Policies must be credible as well as intelligent".

    Hoey: "We keep hearing about the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and the implication is that it is made up of most eminent and respectable people—I do not disagree—and the font of all wisdom. It is important to point out, however, that it is part of the Home Office, it is not a scientific advisory panel".