Improving drug regulations




Many independent reports have analysed Government's drugs policy but none have assessed that policy with reference to any objective measure. We set out to assess drugs policy firstly for compliance with the Government's own guidance on decision making, then secondly for compliance with the law and legal decision making case law.

Analysing the Government's drugs policy in terms of the Government's own modernisation programme reveals in detail their policy-making errors. The modernisation programme aims to improve decision-making throughout Government: policy should be evidence-based, use scientific advice appropriately, analyse risks using a structured risk assessment, evaluate the costs and benefits of all regulatory/policy options and then select the most cost-effective option, having consulted with those affected by the decision throughout. Government provides detailed guidance on each stage.
Drugs policy fails at every stage: scientific evidence is ignored, risks are not analysed and only one regulatory/policy option is considered, without evaluation. Drugs policy is based on the assumption that if a drug is harmful in any way, prohibition is justified - as long as it's not a traditional drug used by politicians and the majority of voters, in which case policy making roughly follows Government guidance.

Our approach of comparing reality with Government guidance aims to help drug policy reformers to:
- identify errors in Government's drug policy making as judged by Government guidance;
- show that Government guidance on policy making leads inevitably to the regulation of all drugs;
- explain drug reform ideas in the language of Government's policy making guidance;
- present a face-saving approach for Government: it is their policy guidance that highlights the need to reform drugs policy.

Government decision making - an holistic 'systems approach':

Principles: linking risk - costs & benefits and uncertainty - with regulation and the law.
Decision making process: define purpose (to change the state of the system, e.g. for the target process, minimise its risks and uncertainty while maximising its benefits and certainty); assess many alternative methods for achieving that purpose (evaluate the costs and benefits of all regulatory options); select most cost-effective option; implement option; review success of option in achieving purpose; revise regulatory options assessment in light of review.
The big picture: developing from unconscious, opinion-based decision making to conscious, evidence-based decision-making - for Government and individuals. When society becomes conscious of a new form of institutionalised discrimination, society and individuals become conscious of a previously unconscious process; humans are still evolving consciousness.
The aim of this page is not merely to know a little about these issues objectively but also to develop a subjective understanding of them, something many 'experts' fail to do.


The law:

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971:

Parliament makes the law on behalf of citizens and Government must implement it lawfully, in the public interest, not unlawfully, in their own political interest. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 [MDA] gives the Government enormous discretion in its use of legal power, so to avoid the risk of political bias or misuse of legal power, the MDA specifies that the Government's Home Office [HO] must first take independent scientific advice on drug risks and regulatory recommendations from an independent scientific advisory committee, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs [ACMD]; HO do not have to follow their advice but at least they would have to justify any decisions that contradict it.
UN drug Conventions requiring the blanket prohibition of some drugs are not relevant to the UK as Parliament chose not to incorprate the Conventions into our domestic law. The MDA makes no mention of the Conventions being a factor in implementing the Act. The MDA clearly intended regulations to evolve with scientific evidence rather than for regulations to be bound forever by international law.


Pre-2006 ACMD advice and Government policy:

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs:

The ACMD's statutory duties under the MDA, the dependence of their advice on Government policy, the misuse of the word 'drugs' and failure to identify traditional drugs as drugs, failure to follow Codes of Practise for Scientific Committees, failure to follow Government guidance on risk and regulatory options assessments, and failure to follow the principles of the Government's modernisation programme.
In 2006 ACMD admitted to discriminating between drugs (and therefore those involved with drugs) based on legal status rather than harmfulness; they advised that such discrimination is unjustified and recommended and end to it. Government has ignored this and started a new 10 year strategy without any public debate about this revolutionary advice.

Government Drugs policy:

Government says their drugs policy is based upon the independent scientific advice of the ACMD. Other factors Government mentions as affecting Government's drugs policy. No mention of public opinion or international law.
In 2006 they admitted that their drugs policy depends on both the opinion of the majority of the public and on UN drug Conventions.


Government's modernisation campaign [under construction]


Government's campaign to improve regulation:

"The Government’s overarching aim is to deliver better regulation, which means regulating only where necessary [and] doing so in a light touch way that is proportionate to risk".


The role of scientific advice in policy making:

Introduction: the scientific advisory system, failures and recommendations



  • House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology: The Scientific Advisory System [summary] [text]

  • Codes of Practise for Scientific Committees [summary] [text] [pdf]
    [applies to Committees]

  • Guidelines 2000: scientific advice and policy making [summary] [text]
    [applies to Committees and Government Departments]

  • Chief Scientific Adviser's Implemention of Guidelines 2000 [summary] [text] [pdf]
    [including Home Office assessment of compliance]

  • Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (POST) Notes [summary]


Health and education policies:



Regulation and policy making guidelines:

Introduction: policy-making = problem-solving = decision-making = informed choice



  • Introduction to Government's regulatory reform [summary]

  • Cabinet Office: Magenta Book

  • HM Treasury: consultation draft Managing risks to the public: appraisal guidance [summary] [pdf]

  • HM Treasury: Green Book - Appraisal & Evaluation in Central Government, 2003 [summary] [text] [pdf]

  • The Centre for Management and Policy Studies' Better Policy Making, 2001 [summary] [pdf]
    [the 9 principles of better policy making]

  • The Better Regulation Task Force's Principles of Good Regulation, 2003 [summary] [text] [pdf]
    [the 5 principles of good regulation: accountability, transparency, consistency, targeting and proportionality]


Risk perception, assessment, management and communication:

Introduction: Government guidelines distinguish between risks to public health and risks to Government policy; risks of harm and of benefit; and voluntary and imposed risks.



  • Cabinet Office/HM Treasury: Principles of Managing Risks to the Public, 2003 [text] [pdf]

  • HM Treasury: Orange Book - Management of Risk, principles & concepts draft, 2004 [summary] [text] [pdf]

  • Strategy Unit: Risk: Improving Government’s capability to handle risk and uncertainty, 2002 [summary] [text] [pdf]