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Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs may be failing to fulfill their duty

Many thanks to Duncan Cameron, from Parents Against Lethal Addictive Drugs (PALAD) for the below information and permission to use it.

Parents Against Lethal Addictive Drugs began as an informal group of parents concerned about the drug problems faced by their children. After reading Government reports they were shocked to find that the harm caused by illegal drugs is far outweighed by the harm caused by legal drugs, notably alcohol and tobacco. After further research, they came to the opinion that the current drug laws are doing far more harm than good, not least because they appear to encourage the use of the most harmful drugs and discourage any use of other less harmful drugs. Cannabis is, whilst certainly not harmless, considerably safer for most people than alcohol or tobacco. PALAD have called for cannabis to be legalised and regulated. It is apparent that whatever the drug laws are based on it cannot be on the relative harm of the use of a substance. PALAD want to expose this finding to the public and challenge the Government to respond appropriately.

Duncan contacted UKCIA expressing his concern that the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs - the Government's "statutory independent advisory body" on the subject of drugs - was failing to follow the Governmental Code of Practise for Scientific Committees or Government-issued guidelines on risk assessment, risk management, health policy and good regulation. He provided a summary of his concerns below:

  • The ACMD has a statutory duty under section 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to provide Government with risk assessments and regulatory advice concerning the traditional drugs alcohol, tobacco and caffeine. There is no exclusion clause for these drugs in section 1 of the MDA.
  • The independence of the ACMD's scientific advice is compromised by Government pressure for them to exclude traditional drugs from their advice, contradicting the requirement for independence in the Code of Practise for Scientific Committees. The ACMD use the word 'drugs' to refer to illegal drugs only, contradicting the use of the word in the MDA.
  • Risk assessments by the ACMD/Government are biased by risk familiarity, a known factor that influences risk perception. The familiar risks associated with traditional drugs have been underestimated and the unfamiliar risks from non-traditional drugs overestimated, with respective regulations proportionately biased.
  • Risk management/regulatory advice from the ACMD fails to distinguish between the voluntary risk of self-harm, managed through education, and the risk of imposing harm on others, managed through legislation. This contradicts the Government's risk management guidelines (the Strategy Unit's Risk: improving government capability to handle risks and uncertainty) and health policies to encourage individual responsibility through informed choice (Saving lives: Our healthier nation, the Wanless report Securing good health for the whole population [2004] and the Strategy Unit's Personal responsibility and changing behaviour).
  • The ACMD's regulatory advice does not comply with the Better Regulation Task Force's Principles of Good Regulation, which include the principles of Consistency, Targeting and Proportionality. The ACMD's advice:
    • is not consistent with existing regulations for traditional drugs;
    • is not targeted only at the problem, harmful drug use, but at all drug use; and
    • is not proportional to risk (drug dealers may supply a drug that warns it kills, tobacco, but face punishment if they sell safer alternatives like cannabis).

Duncan submitted a comprehensive report to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. His aim is to force the Government to be "transparent about the reasons for prohibition: there is no evidence that illegal drugs are more harmful than legal drugs but UN Drug Conventions require the UK to prohibit their trade. Once the public appreciates these facts public opinion may change faster."

PALAD would welcome any feedback about this report and their general approach. Please provide feedback via email to info@palad.org.uk. UKCIA will await the response to this report and PALAD's further work with great interest.

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