Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda

Annex A


  A1  The main instrument for drugs control in the United Kingdom is the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. But the Misuse of Drugs Act needs to be seen in the context of various United Nations Conventions on drugs, and is the means by which the United Kingdom seeks to meet its international obligations as a signatory to those Conventions, although the scope of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 extends beyond the Conventions.

  A2  There are three United Nations Conventions on international co-operation in the drugs field. They date from 1961, 1971 and 1988. The aim of these Conventions is continuous international co-operation and control in order to limit drugs to medical and scientific purposes. Drugs are arranged in schedules which determine the level of control applied. The controls include limitations on manufacture, production, cultivation, importation and possession, as well as requirements of labelling, keeping records, prescribing and safe custody.

  A3  The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 replaced the Dangerous Drugs Acts of 1965 and 1967 and thus brought all controlled drugs under the same statutory framework. In so doing, it also incorporated a new system of classification. Drugs were placed in three classes (A, B and C), and penalties for offences under the Act were related to the class of drug in the offence. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 also established the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which it tasked with keeping under review the misuse of drugs in the United Kingdom and advising Ministers on measures to deal with social problems caused by such misuse.

  A4  Class "A" drugs include heroin, cocaine, LSD and Ecstasy. Class "B" drugs include cannabis and amphetamines, and Class "C" include the Benzodiazepines and anabolic steroids. Drugs can be reassigned between classes or new drugs added, by statutory instrument, but only after consulting the Advisory Council. The maximum punishment for the production or supply of a Class "A" drug is life imprisonment, 14 years for a Class "B" drug and five years for Class "C" drug. For possession the respective maxima are seven years; five years; and two years. Lower maximum penalties apply where the sentence is imposed at a magistrates' court.

  A5  As already mentioned, UK legislation seeks to mirror UN Conventions and, while the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 sets out the range of prohibition; secondary legislation, the Misuse of Drugs Regulations, apply specific control regimes to all controlled drugs according to five schedules. The schedules are arranged to reflect differing control regimes according to the potential dangers of misuse. The regulations set out requirements for the manufacturers, suppliers and prescribers.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs

  A6  The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 established the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs as the Government's statutory independent advisory body. Its terms of reference, as set out by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, are: "To keep under review the situation in the United Kingdom with respect to drugs which are being or appear to them likely to be misused under which the misuse is having or appears to them capable of having harmful effects sufficient to constitute the social problem; and to advise Ministers of measures to be taken."

  A7  The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is also responsible for considering any matter relating to drug dependence or the misuse of drugs which may be referred to them by Ministers. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs must be consulted on any proposal to include or remove a substance from the list of controlled drugs or to change a drugs classification under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs currently has 34 members and comprises academic experts and practitioners in a wide range of areas relating to drug misuse. The Chair is Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, Head of the Wolfson Unit of Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Newcastle.

  A8  The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs meets twice a year. There are two standing sub-committees, which also meet twice a year: one considers technical matters; the other reviews drug misuse statistics, information and research. In recent years working groups have also been established to conduct enquiries into topical and important issues. Recent reports have covered drug misuse and the environment, and reducing drug related deaths. The current enquiry is looking at the effects of parental drug misuse on children. These reports and the recommendations they contain inform the development of policy but are written to be useful to those working in the field.

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Prepared 20 December 2001