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Home > English (en) > News > 2010 > A CHANCE FOR SCIENTIFIC DRUG POLICY
Published on 25 September 2010  by encod

A CHANCE FOR SCIENTIFIC DRUG POLICY

The Guardian (UK)

21 September 2010

David Nutt

There’s a growing recognition that Labour’s incoherent drugs policy has
failed. Let’s build a science-based replacement



All the versions of this article: [English]





Last week Professor Roger Pertwee called for cannabis to be licensed for
sale
, and now Tim Hollis, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead
officer on drugs, has said the current criminalisation-based approach to
policing cannabis use
should be reviewed. Pertwee and Hollis are bringing
a welcome breath of fresh air to the debate about drugs and the harm they
do.

The government now has the chance to take a genuinely science-based
approach to drugs policy. Labour took an extremely distorted and punitive
view of cannabis. It rejected both scientific evidence and public opinion
that its harms were relatively modest and reclassified it to Class B
status under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act so that possession for personal
use can now result in up to five years in prison. Worse, Labour also
instigated a policy of pursuing users with an almost religious fervour
with police sniffer dogs assisting in interventions at tube stations and
other places where users might be easily sequestered and searched.

Why was this done? It appears that Labour believed that cannabis was very
harmful to mental health; especially that it caused schizophrenia. Yet as
the advisory body the ACMD pointed out in its 2008 cannabis review, to
stop one case of schizophrenia more than 5,000 young men would have to be
prevented from ever using cannabis. This statistic negates any meaningful
value in controlling cannabis to improve mental health.

Labour also held the view that punishment would reduce use and hence
harms. There is no meaningful evidence in favour of this view. The
evidence we do have – for example, from the experiences with
decriminalisation in the Netherlands and some Australian states – is that
decriminalisation leads to a reduction in harms.

Science cannot determine alone what the framework for drugs regulation
should be. But if policy is not grounded in the science it can easily
collapse into prejudice, moralism and authoritarianism. The chaos earlier
this year over the "legal high" mephedrone raised very significant issues
of evidence in relation to new drugs of unknown harm. Alcohol is legal yet
is producing growing levels of damage which are well detailed in
government reports but recommendations for harm reduction are not acted
upon. A recent scientific review of drug harms, originally published in
The Lancet, found that many class A drugs are in fact less harmful than
alcohol. This raises further questions over the coherence of current drugs
laws.

In the face of a rising tide of dissatisfaction with the intellectual
rationale for the current drugs laws, the coalition should seize the
opportunity to establish a genuinely science-based approach to drugs
policy.





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The European Coalition for Just and Effective Drug Policies, is a pan-European network of currently 140 NGO’s and individual experts involved in the drug issue on a daily base. We are the European section of an International Coalition, which consists of more than 200 NGOs from around the world that have adhered to a Manifesto for Just and Effective Drug Policies (established in 1998). Among our members are organisations of cannabis and other drug users, of health workers, researchers, grassroot activists as well as companies.


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