We strongly recommend that you educate yourself on the issue of "drug equality". In order to help you get started as quickly as possible we have collated a list of links to essential reports, essays, articles and books which we believe will greatly increase your understanding and appreciation of our legal arguments. Each link is followed by a short description and our comments.
This letter was sent by Casey Hardison, acting on behalf of the Drug Equality Alliance, to Leslie Iversen, the new chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) on the 10th of February 2010. This letter intends to communicate the key understandings gleaned by Casey from five years of legal scholarship on the purpose and objects of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the key discoveries about the ACMD revealed in Freedom of Information Act 2000 responses from Leslie Iverson's predecessors, particularly the discovery that since the Act's inception the Council have not taken or received independent legal advice regarding the purpose and objects of the Act or the Council's remit.
24th April 2010 Update – Leslie Iversen has sent a holding
reply to this letter and will soon respond in full to all the points raised in
This landmark report by the Science and Technology Committee to the British House of Commons
addresses the relationship between scientific advice and evidence and the classification of drugs.
It concludes that the current system of drug classification in the UK is arbitrary and
unscientific and "not fit for purpose". It proposes that a more scientific measure of harm be used for classifying
The summary succinctly illustrates the damning nature of its contents:
"With respect to the ABC classification system, we have identified significant anomalies in the classification of individual drugs and a regrettable lack of consistency in the rationale used to make classification decisions. In addition, we have expressed concern at the Government’s proclivity for using the classification system as a means of ‘sending out signals’ to potential users and society at large – it is at odds with the stated objective of classifying drugs on the basis of harm and the Government has not made any attempt to develop an evidence base on which to draw in determining the ‘signal’ being sent out. We have found no convincing evidence for the deterrent effect, which is widely seen as underpinning the Government’s classification policy, and have criticised the Government for failing to meet its commitments to evidence based policy making in this area. More generally, the weakness of the evidence base on addiction and drug abuse is a severe hindrance to effective policy making and we have therefore urged the Government to increase significantly its investment in research.
Finally, we have concluded that the current classification system is not fit for purpose and should be replaced with a more scientifically based scale of harm, decoupled from penalties for possession and trafficking. In light of the serious failings of the ABC classification system that we have identified, we urge the Home Secretary to honour his predecessor’s commitment to review the current system, and to do so without further delay."
In its reply to "Drug classification: making a hash of it?" the UK Government officially admits to its discriminatory administration of the Misuse of Drugs Act by stating that "The distinction between legal and illegal substances is not unequivocally based on pharmacology, economic or risk benefit analysis. It is also based in large part on historical and cultural precedents". This is contrary to the Misuse of Drugs Act's legitimate aim to control "dangerous or otherwise harmful drugs" and, in our submission, contrary to the wishes of Parliament in enacting the Act as well as against the interests of the people. The Government further admits that the criteria for drug classification include "social values, political vision, historical precedent, cultural preference" – the same criteria which in the past underpinned laws which discriminated on the basis of sex, race, religion or sexual orientation. We regard this admission as the Government's mea culpa with regards to the alleged discrimination on the grounds of drug preference.
The Government goes on to state that it "acknowledges that alcohol and tobacco account for more health problems and deaths than illicit drugs" but that "a classification system that applies to legal as well as illegal substances would be unacceptable to the vast majority of people who use, for example alcohol, responsibly and would conflict with deeply embedded historical tradition and tolerance of consumption of a number of substances that alter mental functioning (ranging from caffeine to alcohol and tobacco). Legal substances are therefore regulated through other means". We believe this to be the most damning piece of evidence to date that the Government is knowingly administering drug laws in order to appease the majority whose drugs of preference are currently socially accepted, at the expense of minorities whose drugs of preference are no more harmful than those preferred by the majority. This unequal treatment is deliberately enforced in order to escape the political retribution that might be visited upon the Government if larger numbers were affected by these laws. We believe that this is a clear case of majoritarian scapegoating, resulting in extreme discrimination towards specific minorities who find themselves subject to draconian criminal sanctions for peaceful behaviour which is in essence no different from that of the majority who enjoy the consumption of alcohol and tobacco.
Also interesting to note that in its reply the Government suggests that more harmful drugs such as alcohol can be consumed responsibly while equally or less harmful drugs such as Cannabis cannot, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The lack of logical justifications for the Government's stance is amusingly illustrated by the self-referential assertion that "Legal substances are therefore regulated through other means", implying that consumption of "legal substances" should be treated differently by law based on no other criteria than current legal status!
This much publicised report, co-authored by Prof Blakemore and the current Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Prof David Nutt, et al., presents a scale of harms based on three criteria – physical harm, dependence and social harm – which were independently assessed by experts from the fields of chemistry, pharmacology, forensic science, psychiatry and other medical specialties. The abstract of the report states: "The methodology and processes underlying classification systems are generally neither specified nor transparent, which reduces confidence in their accuracy and undermines health education messages. We developed and explored the feasibility of the use of a nine-category matrix of harm [...] to assess the harms of a range of illicit drugs in an evidence-based fashion".
The report ranked alcohol and tobacco as more harmful than LSD, ecstasy, Cannabis and other currently controlled substances:
Purely in terms of physical harm alcohol and tobacco were at the highest end of the scale outstripping all other substances and together accounting for over 90% of all drug related deaths in the UK.
This report clearly and objectively shows how the current ABC classification system bears little or no resemblance to actual harms related to the consumption of various substances.
This excerpt summarises the findings:
"Our findings raise questions about the validity of the current Misuse of Drugs Act classification, despite the fact that it is nominally based on an assessment of risk to users and society. The discrepancies between our findings and current classifications are especially striking in relation to psychedelic-type drugs. Our results also emphasise that the exclusion of alcohol and tobacco from the Misuse of Drugs Act is, from a scientific perspective, arbitrary. We saw no clear distinction between socially acceptable and illicit substances. The fact that the two most widely used legal drugs lie in the upper half of the ranking of harm is surely important information that should be taken into account in public debate on illegal drug use. Discussions based on a formal assessment of harm rather than on prejudice and assumptions might help society to engage in a more rational debate about the relative risks and harms of drugs."
This report by the independent body charged with the statutory duty to advise the UK Government on drug classification issues recognizes that alcohol and tobacco are no less harmful to individuals and society than other drugs, it finds that "of all drugs, the use of alcohol has shown the greatest recent growth and causes the most widespread problems among young people in the UK today. It is also the least regulated and the most heavily marketed". It makes the following key recommendation: "As 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."
A detailed progress report on the previous Pathways to Problems report. The
report contains some potentially unpalatable conclusions, including not enough
being done on alcohol and tobacco, as well as calling for a review of the Misuse
of Drugs Act 1971. Yet this report received no media attention or a response
from the Home Office.
Here are some key quotes form the report:
"The use of illegal drugs is by no means always harmful any more than alcohol use is always harmful. The evidence suggests that a majority of people who use drugs are able to use them without harming themselves or others."
"Much that is true of the reasons why people use illegal drugs is, of course, also true of the reasons they use alcohol, tobacco and other substances; and users of alcohol and tobacco may well become dependent users. Indeed, in their different ways, alcohol and tobacco cause far more harm than illegal drugs. For that reason, we recommend that illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco and other psychoactive substances should be brought within a single regulatory framework, one capable of treating substances according to the amount of harms they cause."
"The law as it stands is not fit for purpose. The principal statute, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, is now more than thirty years old. It is unwieldy, inflexible and at some points addresses problems that no longer exist. It fails to embrace alcohol, tobacco and other harmful substances. It is driven more by ‘moral panic’ than by a practical desire to reduce harm. It relies too heavily on discretion in its enforcement. It sends people to prison who should not be there. It forces people into treatment who do not need it (while, in effect, denying treatment to people who do need it). Efforts to implement the law as it stands waste a great deal of money. Not least, the law as it stands embodies a classification of illegal drugs that is crude, ineffective, riddled with anomalies and open to political manipulation. We recommend that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and the subsequent legislation associated with it be repealed and be replaced by a comprehensive Misuse of Substances Act."
"The current ABC classification used in the UK is clearly now indefensible, described by the RSA Commission as “crude, ineffective, riddled with anomalies and open to political manipulation”. Most importantly the current ABC system illogically excludes both alcohol and tobacco."
In this article Casey Hardison, currently serving a 20 year sentence in the UK for the manufacture of LSD, DMT and 2C-B, systematically deconstructs the UK Government's maladministration of the Misuse of Drugs Act. Written from behind bars, this article is beautifully articulated, logically argued, brilliantly researched and impeccably referenced. Essential reading for all.
Second installment of the article.
All the ammunition you will ever need in the "drug legalisation vs. drug prohibition" debate.
Richard Glen Boire's groundbreaking four part essay on Cognitive Liberty argues for the fundamental right to control one’s own mental processes through whatever means, including psychoactive drugs. It traces the historical roots of mind control from the Council of Nicea's declaration on the divinity of Christ to the Catholic Church's Index Librorum Prohibitorum to modern day drug prohibition. It argues that "The right to control one’s own consciousness is the quintessence of freedom. If freedom is to mean anything, it must mean that each person has an inviolable right to think for him or herself. It must mean, at a minimum, that each person is free to direct one’s own consciousness; one’s own underlying mental processes, and one’s beliefs, opinions, and worldview."
Giancarlo Arnao's essay on the semantics of prohibition analyses the role of language, especially in the ambit of law and politics, in the systematic demonisation of (some) drugs and users of (some) drugs, from the inaccurate use of terms such as "narcotic" in international conventions, to the meanings of "abuse", "addiction" and "non-medical use". This essay is a great introduction to the way our understanding of "drugs" is socially constructed and politically biased.
In this book Thomas Szasz suggests that governments have overstepped their bounds in labeling and prohibiting certain drugs as "dangerous" and incarcerating drug "addicts" in order to cure them. Szasz asserts that such policies scapegoat users, producers and suppliers of some (but not all) drugs. He notes that pharmakos, the Greek root of pharmacology, means "scapegoat". First published in 1976 this book was far ahead of its times and remains as relevant today as it was then.
Jonathan Ott's Proemium taken from his book Pharmacotheon and freely available online is a relentless, precise and scathing attack on everything that's not working with the global War on Some People who use Some Drugs. A compelling read!
In this book Jacob Sullum goes beyond debate on legalisation or the proper way to win the "War on Drugs", to the heart of a social and individual defence of using drugs. Saying Yes argues that the all or nothing thinking that has long dominated discussions of "illegal drug" use should give way to a wiser, subtler approach. Exemplified by the tradition of moderate drinking, such an approach rejects the idea that there is something inherently wrong with using chemicals to alter one's mood or mind. Saying Yes further contends that the conventional understanding of addiction, portraying it as a kind of chemical slavery in which the user's values and wishes do not matter, is also fundamentally misleading. Writing in a lively and provocative style Sullum contrasts drug use as it is described by politicians and propagandists with drug use as it is experienced by the silent majority of users. The lives they lead challenge a central premise of the War on (some) Drugs - the idea that certain substances have the power to compel immoral behaviour.
Professor David Nutt compares the relative harms of horse riding to those of taking ecstasy and looks at the question of why society tolerates certain harmful activities but not others.
"... arguments about relative drug harms are occurring in an arcane manner, at times taking a quasi-religious character reminiscent of medieval debates about angels and the heads of pins!"
"I suspect most people will be surprised that riding is such a dangerous activity. The data are quite startling – people die and are permanently damaged from falling – with neck and spine fracture leading to permanent spinal injury (Silver and Parry, 1991; Silver 2002). Head injury is four times more common though often less obvious and is the usual cause of death. In the USA, approximately 11,500 cases of traumatic head injury a year are due to riding (Thomas, et al., 2006), and we can presume a proportionate number in the UK. Personality change, reduced motor function and even early onset Parkinson’s disease are well recognised especially in rural clinical practices where horse riding is very common. In some shire counties, it has been estimated that riding causes more head injury than road traffic accidents. Violence is historically intimately associated with equasy – especially those who gather together in hunting groups; initially, this was interspecies aggression but latterly has become specific person to person violence between the pro and anti-hunt lobby groups."
"Making riding illegal would completely prevent all these harms and would be, in practice, very easy to do – it is hard to use a horse in a clandestine manner or in the privacy of one’s own home! I suspect there would be little public or government support for such an option despite the banning of inter-species violence from equasy recently enacted in the Anti-Hunting bill. Indeed why should society want to control harmful sports at all? This attitude raises the critical question of why society tolerates –indeed encourages – certain forms of potentially harmful behaviour but not others, such as drug use."
"So why are harmful sporting activities allowed, whereas relatively less harmful drugs are not? I believe this reflects a societal approach which does not adequately balance the relative risks of drugs against their harms."
"This lack of rational debate can undermine the trust in government in relation to drug misuse and thereby undermining the government’s message in public information campaigns. The media in general seem to have an interest in scare stories about illicit drugs, though there are some exceptions (Horizon, 2008). A telling review of 10-year media reporting of drug deaths in Scotland illustrates the distorted media perspective very well (Forsyth, 2001). During this decade, the likelihood of a newspaper reporting a death from paracetamol was in per 250 deaths, for diazepam it was 1 in 50, whereas for amphetamine it was 1 in 3 and for ecstasy every associated death was reported."