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Home Affairs Committee calls for drug law reform
Home Affairs Committee calls for drug law reform and more emphasis on harm reduction.

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Drug laws "outdated"

Yesterday, 31 August 2023, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee published a report simply entitled “Drugs”. The report makes a wide ranging set of recommendations. These include a call for reform of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and Misuse of Drugs regulations to support greater use of public health based drug interventions. The Committee says that law enforcement should continue to “do all it can to stamp out the illicit trade of controlled drugs”, but says that enforcement needs to be bolstered by a stronger public health response that helps people escape drug addiction and related criminality.

Law reform

The Committee concluded from its inquiries that laws controlling the production, possession and supply of drugs are outdated and in need of reform. It recommends that current classifications of controlled substances should be reviewed by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to ensure they accurately reflect the risk of harm, with further reviews carried out every ten years. The Committee says that psychedelic drugs should be reclassified as a matter of urgency in order to support clinical research into their medical or therapeutic uses. This comes on the back of a number of studies suggesting that drugs such as psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) and MDMA (ecstasy), show promise as therapies for treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. They appear to work by encouraging the growth of new connections between neurons in the brain.

The Committee also supports greater provision of cannabis based products for medicinal (CBPMs) use where there is comprehensive evidence that it can be an effective form of treatment. It says the Government should enable wider access of CBPMs on the NHS, if supported by the findings of the current ACMD review of their impact and asks for further research into their use in treating chronic pain.

However, the Committee explicitly states that it “remains concerned by the harms that non-medical cannabis use may cause, particularly for young people” and says that cannabis should be legalised or regulated for non-medical use

A health-led drug strategy

The Committee acknowledges that the most recent drug strategy (From harm to hope) endorses a public-health approach to drugs but concludes that too little is done to address drug-related health issues either in the short or long term. It calls for a health-led drug strategy that greatly increases the range and availability of services specifically focussed on reducing the harm that drugs cause.

The Committee specifically recommends that the government should pilot drug consumption rooms and endorse and support drug checking at music festivals and within the night-time economy.

Criminal justice

The Committee says that improved use of diversion schemes, where police deal with low-level offending without the involvement of courts, can be an important tool in reducing drug-related crime. It comments that currently provision is patchy across the country,  resulting in “a postcode lottery in how low level drug offences are treated”. The Committee calls on the government to develop national standards for diversion schemes to be used by all police forces.

The Committee also says that drug use can often be the consequence of personal trauma and may continue until this underlying trauma is addressed. It endorses trauma-informed training and practices for all police forces to help deal with drug offending. 

The Committee says it welcomes the Government’s overall ambition to reduce the level of recreational drug use. However, it expresses serious concerns about the planned ‘escalating sanctions’ (such as temporary loss of driving licences and passports) set out in the Government’s drug possession White Paper. 

It will be interesting to see how the Government responds to the Committee’s recommendations.

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One Response

  1. If these recommendations were to be implemented UK drug policy would be transformed. Immediately the emphasis would move from punishment and stigma for drug users to focus on health and life. Drug dealers would struggle to make their vast profits and prisons would empty of all non-violent drug “offenders.” Prohibition has been an utter failure. Drugs are as prevalent as ever, violence increases and more die, many because they have no idea what is in the drugs they are taking. UK drug policy has managed to make drugs as dangerous as possible, leaving them uncontrolled, unregulated and available in minutes. We need drug policy based on science and humanity. Drugs will never go away and the aim should be to live with them as safely as possible. Let’s have some honesty too. If we are going to list drugs in the order of their dangers, we must include alcohol and tobacco too.

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