An expert panel in Britain Thursday called for a complete overhaul of the country's drug laws, saying Britain's Misuse of Drugs Act is so unscientific and unrealistic it should be scrapped in its entirety. The recommendation came in a 335-page report based on two years of deliberations by a panel of experts and laypeople convened by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce (RSA).
The report, Drugs -- Facing Facts is startlingly blunt in its assessment of current British drug policy -- which is very similar to US drug policy -- warning that "a radical rethink" of drug policy is needed before the government's review of the National Drug Strategy next year. Among its recommendations:
- The Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) should be repealed and replaced with a Misuse of Substances Act which incorporates alcohol, tobacco, solvents and over-the-counter and prescription drugs.
- The new framework should be based on an index of substance-related harms -- physical, social and economic -- and drugs policy outcomes should be judged in terms of harms reduced rather than drugs seized or offenders prosecuted.
- More emphasis should be placed on drugs education in primary school and less in secondary school, and more resources should be devoted to prevention work outside schools to reach young people in their own social settings.
- Drug users should be treated in the same way as any other chronic disease sufferers. They should have better access to a range of options for their treatment including heroin prescribing where appropriate, better methadone prescribing, residential rehabilitation, psychological therapies and whole-family treatments.
- Drug addicts who are managing their condition should not be discriminated against by public services such as housing and employment.
- Through the framework of Local Area Agreements, local drugs policy should be joined up and include a renewed emphasis on creating resilient communities. Therefore, the lead in drugs policy should move from the Home Office to the Department for Communities and Local Government
- Cannabis should continue to be controlled. But its position on the harms index several places below alcohol or tobacco suggests that the form this control takes might have to correspond far more closely with the way in which alcohol and tobacco are regulated.
"One of the themes of this report has been the need to shift drugs policy away from its current focus on crime reduction and the criminal justice system and onto a concern with drugs as posing a much more varied and complex set of social problems," said Professor Anthony King, chairman of the RSA drugs commission in a press statement accompanying the release of the report. "Drugs in our society are not just about crime; they are about individual health, public health, family life and the health and well-being of entire communities. It cannot be good for the UK that it is currently the drug-using centre of Europe."
With an eye on 2008, King called for the government to get to work on a radically new drug policy. "We urge ministers to set in train work on a new Misuse of Substances Act and to undertake with urgency the task of re-orienting drugs policy and redirecting it towards a broader conception of harm prevention and reduction. Current policy is broke and needs to be fixed."