PALAD campaigns for equal rights of public protection from legal drugs, drugs which have been severely under-regulated, and equal rights of freedom for illegal drugs, drugs which have been severely over-regulated. Neither of these regulatory extremes have been effective. We campaign for equal rights for all drug consumers, traders and producers, with regulations proportionate to harmfulness replacing current regulations which are proportionate to public fear and legal status.

email: info [at] palad.org.uk

This website examines drugs policy in relation to Government guidance on policy making, risk and regulation;
Government's drugs policy is analysed in relation to legal decision making at www.drugdiscrimination.org

 


The problem:

55,000 young people are killed by alcohol every year in Europe. Suppliers of alcohol to underage drinkers now face an on-the-spot fine of 80 as our Government 'gets tough' on the problem. Meanwhile anyone caught supplying consenting adults with safer alternatives to alcohol faces up to life imprisonment. This is the reality of the institutionalised discrimination against minorities who consume or trade safer drugs than the lethal addictive drugs used by politicians and the majority of voters.
Ninety percent of adults regularly take stimulant and intoxicant drugs to alter mood for non-medical reasons: caffeine and alcohol. By law our children are correctly taught that alcohol, tobacco and caffeine are drugs. Little wonder so many young people dismiss the Government's message that 'drugs are harmful and no one should take them' as hypocritical and discriminatory.
Policy based on tradition rather than evidence underlies all institutionalised discrimination. We no longer accept sexism and racism so why do we continue to accept drug discrimination?

The solution: a rational, fair and effective drugs policy would be integrated and evidence-based; it would:

  1. INTEGRATE illegal and legal drug policies since both groups of drugs are equally harmful.
  2. DISCRIMINATE instead, for each drug, between (a) reasonably safe drug use, (b) use harmful to the user and (c) use harmful to others.
  3. TOLERATE (a) reasonably safe use.
  4. EDUCATE against (b) harm to users ('misuse').
  5. LEGISLATE only against (c) harm to others ('abuse').

    [use = consumption, trade and production]

 

Detail: below are excerpts from our submissions to public bodies

 

PALAD submission to the Better Regulation Executive, June 2007:

Problem Description:
We are a voluntary organisation concerned by the unequal treatment under the Misuse of Drugs Act [MDA] of those involved with equally harmful drugs. Drug discrimination results in the under-regulation of drugs used by the majority, alcohol and tobacco, and the over-regulation of illegal drugs used by minorities with legal drug users denied equal protection and illegal drug users denied equal freedom - equal property rights of possession, supply and production and equal rights of informed choice. Neither of these polarised regulatory extremes is effective. Strict licensing for all non-medical drugs would significantly reduce the public health risks to society cost-effectively.
[In terms of the Better Regulation Task Force’s] Principles of Good Regulation:
Regulations for equally harmful legal and illegal drugs are not Consistent in their Targeting of the problem and their Proportionality of regulations to risk. Legal drug regulations correctly target the problem, harmful drug consumption, supply and production while illegal drug regulations target all property rights – possession, supply and production – irrespective of harmfulness. Legal drug regulations are disproportionately lax while illegal drug regulations are disproportionately strict.

Evidence:
The statutory Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs [ACMD] stated in their report Pathways to Problems, 2006, that there is no objective justification for the different regulations for legal and illegal non-medical drugs and medical drugs:

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

The ACMD concluded:

As their actions are similar and their harmfulness to individuals and society is no less than that of other psychoactive drugs, tobacco and alcohol should be explicitly included within the terms of reference of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. [Recommendation 1]
A fully integrated approach should be taken to the development of policies designed to prevent the hazardous use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs. [Recommendation 11]

The Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee, having taken evidence from the ACMD that some drugs classified as most harmful under the MDA were significantly safer than alcohol and tobacco [Appendix 14], stated in their report Drug classification: making a hash of it?

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. [Para 107]

Proposed solution:

The MDA gives the ACMD the statutory duty to provide Government with “advice on measures (whether or not involving alteration of the law)” … “for restricting the availability of such drugs” [Section 1]. The ACMD does then have the power and duty to advise Government about regulatory alternatives to the prohibition of drugs for non-medical use. The MDA was intended to evolve with new evidence of both drug risks and the effectiveness of alternative regulatory options. The MDA does not incorporate UN drug Conventions into domestic law so those Conventions should have no more weight in regulatory decisions than international treaties requiring equal treatment before the law and protection from discrimination.

PALAD submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Science and Technology’s Drug classification: making a hash of it?, January 2006:

10. The current MDA classification of harmful drugs uses scientific evidence to justify discrimination between traditional drugs used by the majority and non-traditional drugs used by minorities. As a result the former have been under-regulated and the latter over-regulated. Other examples where the traditional majority discriminates against non-traditional minorities are sexism and racism.

16. There has been a continuous trend since the 1950s when the risks from drugs traditionally used in the west were under-estimated (they were not even viewed as drugs) while the risks from non-traditional drugs were exaggerated, with regulations proportionately biased. The change in the evidence base is exceptional: in 1955 the World Health Organisation’s report Physical and Mental Effects of Cannabis stated “under the influence of cannabis, the danger of committing unpremeditated murder is very great; it can happen in cold blood, without any reason or motive, unexpectedly, without any preceding quarrel; often the murderer does not even know the victim, and simply kills for pleasure”. Six years later the first UN drug Convention criminalised cannabis. In contrast WHO’s 1995 cannabis report states “cannabis appears to play little role in injuries caused by violence, as does alcohol”.
The trend is toward scientific evidence of actual risk steadily replacing perceived risk with social attitudes altering accordingly. Since 1971 public opinion in favour of drug policy reform (‘legalisation’) has increased at around 1% a year. Public opinion is now balanced roughly 50-50. Evidence that traditional drugs are harmful drugs has increased dramatically in the last decade. The long-term trend for traditional and non-traditional drugs is toward integration as the evidence base increases. This constitutes an inevitable risk to Government’s currently dis-integrated alcohol, tobacco and ‘drugs’ policy but also a significant opportunity. The UK could lead the world in integrating traditional and non-traditional drug misuse policy based upon the Government’s modernisation program.

18. ACMD and HO [Home Office] do not follow Government guidance on risk assessment and management. They do not correctly frame the problem as ‘all harmful drug use’ but instead frame it as ‘all use of only non-traditional drugs’. Perceived benefits (e.g. relaxation, enjoyment, socialising) are taken to be risks of dependency, in contrast to alcohol policy. Risk impacts are listed but not their likelihood. Risk factors, such as frequency of use, route of administration and setting, are not sufficiently analysed. Voluntary risks, usually viewed as a health issue, are not distinguished from risks imposed on others, usually viewed as a criminal issue. Perceived risks, known to be strongly influenced by familiarity, are not identified and distinguished from evidence-based risk. Non-scientific factors (e.g. public opinion, economic factors such as competition & taxation, human rights & inequalities, international law) are not identified and distinguished from scientific factors. The ACMD’s risk assessment is not consistent with that of any other harmful product, especially those voluntarily consumed. HO do not appear to carry out risk assessments to the public or to Government, relying solely on the ACMD’s assessment of risk to the public.

26. Our conclusions:

To comply with Government guidelines, and perhaps their statutory duty under the MDA, ACMD should reframe their current advice to Government so it is consistent with the evidence that:

         Alcohol and tobacco are harmful drugs.

         Harmless drugs do not exist.

         Legal and illegal drugs are equally harmful according to scientific evidence.

         Different regulatory policies toward legal and illegal drugs are determined by non-scientific factors, not scientific evidence.

         Recreational drug consumption is widely accepted in society - 90% of adults consume the stimulant and intoxicant drugs caffeine and alcohol.

PALAD submission to the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s Getting the balance right: Implementing standards of conduct in public life, April 2004:

1.9 (ii) Public bodies with a remit to provide regulatory advice proportionate to risk may have an organisational culture that exaggerates unfamiliar or non-traditional risks and minimises familiar or traditional risks. This may result in inconsistent and disproportionate regulatory advice.

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

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