9th October 2008
Edwin Stratton, 43, of Leyton, London, is charged with production of cannabis under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (“The Act”). He has today given notice of his intention to challenge the legitimacy of this prosecution in the High Court as an abuse of process. This assertion is evidenced by the bias and discrimination inherent in the policy that equally harmful drugs and those exercising property rights in such drugs should be treated differently in law. The defence claims a majoritarian abuse of power by the executive in the administration of drugs legislation. The rights afforded under the Human Rights Act 1998 guarantee freedom from arbitrary discrimination: this claim is grounded in the unequal protection afforded to drug property rights between ‘licit’ and ‘illicit’ drugs. This challenge seeks to hold the government and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (“ACMD”) to account for an alleged irrational administration of the law which has led to countless thousands of lives lost and destroyed in the so-called ‘War on Drugs’.
1. Edwin is being prosecuted for his medical use of cannabis which he attempted to grow in the privacy of his home. He suffers from a hyper-sensitive form of coeliac disease which leaves him with constant pain and nausea for which cannabis is uniquely effective in his experience, and without the dreadful side-effects he experiences with prescription drugs.
2. Due to the nature of this legal challenge, which squarely puts the government’s application of the law in the spotlight – this case must, according to law, be heard in the High Court.
3. Edwin says: “Drugs legislation intends to protect us from harmful drugs. I absolutely agree with that aim, but the present policy is a disaster from a harm-reduction perspective. The legal classification of drugs is entirely inconsistent with the objective of creating a criminal tariff of punishments for drugs offences according to their relative harmfulness or potential for harm”. Support for this position has come from organisations such as Transform Drug Policy Foundation, Release, the Beckley Foundation, The Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and Technology and the ACMD’s own prevention working group in their 2006 report ‘Pathways to Problems’. The incoming chair of the ACMD co-authored a March 2007 report in the Lancet, which presented a hierarchy of drug harm as determined by experts, elucidating the arbitrariness of the current classification of drugs under the Act.
4. The discriminatory application of law is starkly obvious when we factor in the harms caused by alcohol and tobacco, which together kill 150,000 people in the UK every year. Despite over 800,000 hospital admissions last year due to alcohol abuse, cannabis users cause far less harm to themselves and others and yet are compelled not only to risk arrest, prosecution and imprisonment, but also must endure the risk of dealing with criminal elements, risk their health due to contaminants, and risk exposure to products of unknown strength – all of which Edwin sought to avoid by growing it himself. Despite awareness campaigns, the legal status of alcohol and tobacco falsely signifies that these drugs are safer than many controlled drugs; this results in a lack of proper legal protection for alcohol and tobacco users in comparison to the stringent controls over equally harmful controlled drugs. Edwin says that “my advisers consider that the government does not have the discretion in law to exclude dangerous drugs from the remit of the enforcement legislation on the arbitrary basis of ‘cultural and historical precedents’. Government insists that the responsible use of alcohol and tobacco can be maintained without subjecting either to controls under the Act, whereas this possibility is denied to users of other equally harmful drugs, these double standards perpetuate detrimental consequences to users of all kinds of drugs”. (see HM Government official response to the Cabinet Office Better Regulation Executive (September 27th 2007).
5. Edwin is a part of a campaigning network known as the nascent DEA (Drug Equality Alliance). Individuals can register their support by visiting http://www.drugequality.org – the group is seeking to illuminate support for a much needed transformation of the impasse causing so much harm to people who use drugs of all kinds.