Home Office forced to release suppressed Drugs Classification Review from 2006

Drug Equality Alliance Press Release
(12th July 2010)

The Home Office has been compelled to disclose a previously suppressed draft consultation paper containing suggestions for a review of the drug classification system. The 2006 review was finally released after three years of stubborn Government resistance to a Freedom of Information request submitted by Casey Hardison, acting with the Drug Equality Alliance. On 9th July 2010 the Government finally threw in the towel and released its controversial Review of the UK's Drugs Classification system - a Public Consultation.

Section 6 of the report reveals the reasons for its suppression: in paragraphs 6.8 to 6.11, the Government admits illogical differences in treatment between the freedoms granted to users of the lethal and addictive drugs alcohol and tobacco, versus the criminalization of users of much less harmful drugs such as cannabis, LSD and Ecstasy.

This echoes the October 2009 revelation by the former Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Professor David Nutt, that alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous than cannabis, ecstasy and LSD. It will be recalled that this was the reason Professor Nutt was fired by Home Secretary Alan Johnson, but prior to this the Government had admitted as much in Paragraph 6.8 of the 2006 review:

"… alcohol and tobacco account for more health problems and deaths than illicit drugs. To many young people this presents problems in understanding the rationale behind controlling drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy when their misuse contributes less overall harm to society than widely available drugs such as alcohol and tobacco."

The embarrassing admissions contained in 6.8 to 6.11 of the report, when considered along with the dateline of the report, May 2006, leads one to question whether this was the real reason Charles Clarke was sacked on May 5th.

Alcohol and Tobacco

At paragraph 6.10, the Report suggests the inclusion of alcohol and tobacco in the drugs classification system to provide a more structured and transparent system. However, the Government rejected any consistency in drugs policy which included the drugs alcohol and tobacco in the mistaken belief that the Misuse of Drugs Act provides only for prohibition, and that the prohibition of alcohol and tobacco would be culturally 'unacceptable'. However, a reading of the Misuse of Drugs Act demonstrates this belief to be false because the Act provides for a full spectrum of controls short of prohibition under Sections 7, 22 and 31. The Act includes the power to authorise the licensed supply, sale, transport, manufacture, etc. of controlled drugs for non-medical and non-scientific use purposes, ie. so-called recreational, sacramental and self-healing uses.

But official ignorance of these centrally important sections of the Misuse of Drugs Act leads to a 'policy of prohibition', which gives rise to the legally false concept that 'drugs' are 'illegal'; indeed, under the Act there are no such things as 'legal' or 'illegal' drugs. Drugs are either 'controlled' under the Act or they are not. With respect to the title of section 6 of the report: Legal and Socially Accepted Substances, it is plain that the Government does not understand the Misuse of Drugs Act.

"Policy of Prohibition"

Paragraph 6.11 of the Review reveals the depth of Government ignorance:

"…most people would not want to see the drugs classification system as a mechanism for regulating legal substances such as alcohol and tobacco."

The Government falsely believes that control equals prohibition, and further, the sentence above demonstrates the Government even equates 'regulation' with 'prohibition'. However, the licensed sales of alcohol and tobacco to over-18s are indeed 'controls' applied to 'drugs', for which the Misuse of Drugs Act makes explicit provision. Were such controls imposed on alcohol and tobacco, most would be unaware that they were included under the Misuse of Drugs Act, because little would change. Paragraph 6.11 continues:

"If applied to legal as well as illegal substances, this would conflict with deeply embedded historical tradition and tolerance of consumption of a number of substances that alter mental functioning."
The Government admits its refusal to apply controls to alcohol and tobacco for reasons of culture and tradition and not for correct legal reasons. But the Misuse of Drugs Act is a neutral Act of Parliament which must be applied generally. It must not be legally distorted to afford unequal treatment to persons identically situated; such as people with interests in equally or less harmful drugs. However, this newly released report shows that to be exactly how it is administered by Government: arbitrarily and unequally.

Due to these egregious legal errors in the Government's understanding of the Misuse of Drugs Act, the Government refuses to guarantee equality before the law. As a result, at least one in ten people in the United Kingdom are routinely threatened with criminal sanctions, the loss of property, the denial of civil rights and arbitrary imprisonment.

Currently, over ten thousand UK citizens are in prison for peaceful activities involving less harmful drugs than tobacco and alcohol.

Download the documents below:

Cover letter (PDF)
Review of the UK’s Drugs Classification System - a Public Consultation (PDF)