Summary of new drug policy recommendations

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

So I have now ploughed through the full document, ‘Towards a Safer Drug Policy: Challenges and Opportunities arising from ‘legal highs” and thought it might be useful to provide my non-executive summary. I’m not attempting a full review – I’m just picking out a few bits that might be interesting. Please feel free to circulate if useful.

– A new psychoactive substance arrived on the market on average every 6 days in 2012, with a new marketplace – Internet and social media.

– Drug laws were developed from moral disapproval, when little evidence existed.

– The Misuse of Drugs Act intended to classify substances according to risk – however politicians have not responded to evidence by down-grading safer drugs, and there is now a lack of correlation between drug harm and classification.

– Young people often don’t care about risk, the focus should be on information and support.

– “Drug use in the UK is described as common if not normal activity”, with 16-19 year olds the most common group, and twice the percentage of young people in the UK using ‘legal highs’ than the European average.

– Banning one substance can make matters worse as it may be replaced by something more dangerous and about which even less is known. It does not decrease use.

– Drugs being sold under the same name may have widely varying contents.

– A need for Trading Standards, health and safety legislation, and a national testing centre, encouraging suppliers to focus on product safety and protecting vulnerable consumers.

– Countries which have introduced decriminalisation have not seem an increase in drug use but have seen positive results in terms of employment, housing, family relationships and costs to the taxpayer.

– New Zealand model: onus is on supplier, not state, to evidence low risk of harm, and harm of regulations should be not greater than harm of the substance being regulated.

– Decriminalisation in Portugal has reduced number of young people addicted to drugs and reduced drug-related deaths.

– New drugs are substitutes for old, possibly less dangerous drugs, so it makes sense to also decriminalise these.

– USA trials have shown that preventive interventions should be interactive, involve parents and their parenting, and be community-based (nothing too ground-breaking there).

– Information on drug properties and prevalence needs to be pooled and made available to public service workers.

– Police seizing white powders currently do not know whether they are removing legal substances and arresting law-abiding citizens until a drawn-out and costly forensic analysis has taken place.

– Introduction of Club Drug Clinics.

– Drug taxation is being considered.

For those bothered enough to read the whole thing, I finally found the full doc at

Possibly also of interest is a documentary that was on BBC4 last night about America’s ‘war on drugs’, which was excellent, and although at times went a bit too far down the pro-drugs road for my liking (trying to imply that crack and methamphet are falsely associated with violence???), it was an intense and honest review of the use of drugs legislation as a method of social control. One scary figure was that 13% of drug use in the US was by black Americans – exactly proportional to the 13% of the overall population they represented – but that 90% of those incarcerated on drug offences were black. Scary stuff. It was a broad-reaching documentary though, looking at how the political and media hysteria around drugs has got to where it is today, watch it.

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