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
(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
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
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.
2. DOES EXISTING
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
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
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
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. WHAT SHOULD
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.
4. WHAT WOULD
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
(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.
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