The latest APPG for Drug Policy Reform meeting was held on the 50th anniversary of the Misuse of Drugs Act – legislation that was very much no longer fit for purpose , delegates heard
PAST ITS SELL-BY DATE
Misuse of Drugs Act was introduced at a time when a woman could be legally sacked for being pregnant , smoking was normal everywhere from cinemas to doctors ’ waiting rooms , and The Black and White Minstrel Show was a staple of prime-time BBC ,’ Transform chief executive James Nicholls told an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform event to mark the act ’ s 50th anniversary . Held in collaboration with Transform and the Drugs , Alcohol and Justice Cross-party group , the meeting reflected on the act ’ s legacy and what needed to change .
‘ One of the most important areas of social policy is still bound by legislation passed 50 years ago ,’ said Nicholls . ‘ That ’ s a long time for any legislation to stay in place without amendment or reform ’ – particularly as so much had since changed around issues like use , attitudes , harm and availability .
It wasn ’ t just that the act was out of date , he said . ‘ It ’ s not fit for purpose , and most obviously it ’ s failed dramatically to achieve its own aims .’ Aside even from drug death rates , there had so far been 1.8m convictions under the act across the UK , and three million criminal records including cautions – ‘ that ’ s a lot of people who ’ ve been criminalised .’ Despite all the evidence of failure , however , there remained ‘ an extraordinary political taboo on discussing how we got this policy so wrong and the changes we can introduce to rectify things . To say that “ this is the best we can do ” is to accept that the failures we see all around us should simply remain in place .’
MAKING IT WORSE The current laws ‘ paradoxically make things worse ’ in that they encouraged the use of more harmful substances , said chair of Drug Science and former ACMD chair Professor David Nutt . ‘ Alcohol isn ’ t the most harmful drug to the user , but it ’ s the most destructive drug , by far , to people who don ’ t use it .’
Drugs that caused relatively less harm to the user – and vanishingly small harm to society – such as
' The Misuse of Drugs Act was introduced at a time when a woman could be legally sacked for being pregnant ... and The Black and White Minstrel Show was a staple of prime-time BBC .'
ecstasy , LSD and mushrooms were subject to harsh legislation , with the UN conventions that the UK ‘ followed slavishly ’ seriously damaging research into the potential benefits of psychedelics , for example in treating depression and other conditions . ‘ It ’ s the worst censorship of research in the history of the world ,’ he stated . ‘ Never has access to a research tool been so effectively demolished by any kind of control . You might argue that these controls are necessary to reduce recreational use or harm , but there ’ s virtually no evidence that they have . It ’ s the worst of all worlds .’
Ray Lakeman , campaigner for Anyone ’ s Child , told the meeting how both of his sons had died from an MDMA overdose . ‘ When I talked to their friends at the funeral , one of the things that came across was that although they were shocked and saddened they weren ’ t going to stop taking drugs ,’ he said . ‘ They
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