Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by Professor Helen L Leathard


  "Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger late over wine, those who keep trying mixed wines. At last it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder. Your eyes will seen strange things, and your mind will utter perverse things." (Proverbs 23, 29-30, 32 NRSV)

  "Love your enemies, do good, and lend, expending nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." (Luke 6, 35-36, NRSV)

  1.1  These two quotations from the Bible illustrate the tensions in the Christian Church and in society at large regarding the non-medical use and misuse of psychoactive chemicals[8] (legally available or controlled). I am making this personal submission as a pharmacologist and at the request of the Chair and Secretary of the Church of England Board for Social Responsibility, to reinforce the point made in paragraph 5 of the submission from the Board, that there is need for widespread accurately-informed debate of this topic.

  1.2  Misuse of drugs, including tobacco products and alcoholic drinks, causes harm to individuals and costs to society in diverse ways. Equally, it is recognised that there are many reasons why people misuse drugs. Some make limited, recreational use of drugs that are currently "controlled". Others, who use drugs excessively, are commonly facing real and severe difficulties in their circumstances and seek a chemical escape route. Such people, however, need help not prosecution. The Christian perspective advocates compassion for all drug users as the overriding principle of the Government's drugs policy.

  1.3  The Government's drugs policy should address rigorously:

    —  Distinctive patterns of use: recreational, excessive-escapist, and compulsive-addictive.

    —  Pharmacological profiles: attractive properties, immediate and long-term risks, and addiction-potential of drugs in relation to legal status; acknowledging the paucity of sound information on human pharmacology of several controlled drugs and combinations and substitutes in "street drugs".

    —  Risks and costs to individual user, family and friends, society at large.


  The existing policy is manifestly inadequate as indicated by:

    —  The great extent of usage of illegal or controlled substances obtained from unregulated/criminal sources by members of many sectors of society.

    —  The wide divergence between government policy and the views of large proportions of the population regarding the appropriate legal status of various controlled drugs, most notably cannabis and ecstasy.

    —  The cognitive dissonance between the purported serious risks of recreational use of some controlled drugs, by comparison with alcohol and tobacco products, and the lived experience of users.

    —  The dangers to health engendered by lack of "quality control" for "street drugs", both in relation to nature of ingredients and quantities of active ingredients.

    —  The psychological trauma suffered by family and friends of suspected drug users who fear that seeking help or advice might result in the incrimination of their loved ones.

    —  The dangers to health (and life itself) posed by "street drugs" because of varying and unspecified strengths and constituents.

    —  The barriers to honesty in medical consultations regarding usage of controlled drugs obfuscating diagnosis of mental health problems and posing risks in accident and emergency and other areas of health care practice.

    —  The potential incrimination of those in the voluntary sector who seek to help people with serious drug-related problems.

    —  The inappropriateness of acquiring a criminal record for an activity that is regarded as acceptable by a very substantial proportion of the population, in a democracy.

    —  The undesirability of many young people making contact with established criminals solely in order to obtain their preferred recreational drugs.


  3.1  Freedom of people to make informed choices about risky behaviours, together with protection (through legal prohibition if necessary) for children, is a principle that currently applies to alcohol and tobacco products, to driving of motorised vehicles and to other risky recreational pursuits. This same principle should apply to drugs policy. Decriminalisation of personal usage of drugs would engender a culture of openness about drug habits and, thereby, enable understanding and compassionate caring for those whose usage is problematic for the individual, their friends and family or society at large. This would greatly facilitate the supportive contributions that could be made by the voluntary sector, including Christian organisations that are currently deterred by the notion of engagement with illegal activity.

  3.2  A necessary concomitant of such a policy would be the provision of pure, standardised products (with appropriate health warnings) through regulated/licensed outlets. The pricing of these could include a "health care" element based on the estimated cost of health and social care provision required for those who suffer because of that drug; price could thereby reflect relative risks and favour use of least risky drugs.


  Decriminalisation accompanied by legal provision of relatively safe drugs could:

    (a)  cause a temporary, but not significant, increase availability as regulated suppliers replace criminal ones in meeting a demand that is unlikely to increase, because supplies are currently plentiful, with active marketing/pushing promoting usage,

    (b)  cause a fall in drug-related deaths (and morbidity) as users change to uncontaminated products, and as reservations about admitting to possible adverse effects of illegal substances are alleviated and medical diagnoses facilitated,

    (c)  cause a dramatic reduction in crime by eliminating the need for criminal transactions to obtain supplies of drugs for recreational use. Provision of free prescriptions and effective support and treatment for addicts would eliminate the need for criminal activities to support drug habits and further reduce drug-related crime. It would be naive, however, not to anticipate some increase in other crime as traffickers seek to replace the income they would have derived from drugs.


  Strengthening of drug education, treatment and rehabilitation provision is also essential.

September 2001

8   The word drug(s) will be used in this restricted, colloquial sense in the present submission as convenient shorthand, while recognising that it is inconsistent with the broader pharmacological and clinical definition of the term. Back

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