Post image for Petition: Have the Misuse of Drugs Act Discussed in Parliament

Petition: Have the Misuse of Drugs Act Discussed in Parliament

05/04/2013

in Drug abuse,Global Policy News,Harm reduction,Policy

A new e-petition has been set up on the gov.uk website calling for an impact assessment of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. The petition has one year to collect 100,000 signatures, and if successful will prompt a debate of the effectiveness of the primary piece of drug legislation in the UK.

Please follow this link if you wish to sign, but note that only British Citizens or UK residents are eligible.

Green party leader Caroline Lucas MP, signatory of the Beckley Foundation Public Letter, has released a video explaining why this petition is important (click here to view it on YouTube). By calling for an impact assessment, the petition will force government ministers to consider the costs and benefits presented by the legislation, and also to examine whether the legislation is even achieving its stated aims.

In the case of the Misuse of Drugs Act, now over 40 years old, it is not clear that any of these requirements are fulfilled. The cost-effectiveness of the current system of penalising all drug users has never been fully examined, and the current groupings under the ABC classification system (with class A being the most dangerous drugs) has never been supported with valid scientific evidence – in fact, an evidence-based assessment of harms produces a very different grouping than that seen in the current legislation.

Another major cost of the prohibition mandated by the Misuse of Drugs Act is that it has led to an unregulated underground drug market controlled by criminals. Substances sourced from this market undergo little to no quality control, and dealers aren’t discerning as to who buys their wares, as long as they’ve got the money. This means that vulnerable groups, including children, can access drugs if they choose to. Furthermore, adulterants are added in the process of manufacture as bulk, which when passed off as the real thing increase the profit margin of criminal operations. Unsurprisingly, and all too frequently, this results in dangerous or deadly consequences for the user.

The petition comes in the wake of a change in the prevailing attitude towards drug use in this country. In the last year alone, there were no less than four reports from professional and government bodies either recommending a fresh look at the UK Misuse of Drugs Act or directly calling for a formal review. The Home Affairs Select Committee concluded that action is needed “now, more than ever.” The UK Drug Policy Commission made several recommendations following six years of research, including a review of the Misuse of Drugs act, along with decriminalisation of possession and shifting the responsibility of policy from the Home Office to the Department of Health. The All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform also recommended that possession of drugs should be decriminalised. The British Medical Association, in a recent report on addiction, recommended that the medical profession get involved in drug policy on the grounds that the current legislation exacerbates the harms faced by their patients such as, for example, contaminated product, contaminated equipment, social marginalisation etc.

Many viable alternatives to complete prohibition exist, from decriminalisation of possession (as in Portugal) to a legal, regulated non-medical market (as is being proposed in the US states of Washington and Colorado). With a regulated market, restrictions on sale may be more easily enforced as clandestine street dealers could be replaced by shop owners and pharmacists with appropriate training. Synthesis, preparation and manufacture of narcotics could similarly be more easily regulated, thus reducing the harm to those who choose to take them or on which they are dependent. Advice and education could also be provided at the point of acquisition, including referral to addiction treatment centres and health warnings printed on any packaging, taking on all the lessons over how tobacco and alcohol are handled today.

The petition is an attempt to look at the ageing legislation and determine if there’s any room for improvement. Enforcement of the current prohibition policy costs the tax-payer £3bn annually, whereas it has been calculated that refocusing the investment in education and treatment could save money in real terms. Whether a discussion in the House of Commons results in a harm-reduction oriented approach to drug control or not, it is surely worth having a look to see where any improvements might be made.

Please follow this link if you wish to sign, but note that only British Citizens or UK residents are eligible.

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