1 Introduction |
1. On 9 November 2005 the Committee launched a major
inquiry into the Government's handling of scientific advice, risk
and evidence in policy making.
We decided that, in addition to collecting evidence on the over-arching
terms of reference, we would undertake three case studies to enable
us to examine the Government's policy making processes in greater
detail. The Report of the first of these case studies, addressing
the UK's involvement with, and response to, the EU Physical Agents
(Electromagnetic Fields) Directive, was published on 29 June 2006.
In this case study, we have looked at the relationship between
scientific advice and evidence and UK policy on the classification
of the illegal drugs. The Report of the remaining case study,
which explores the technologies supporting the Government's policy
on ID cards, will be published in August 2006.
2. There were a number of factors that influenced
our decision to pursue this case study. The misuse of illegal
drugs is a major public health, criminal and social problem. The
UK's drug market is estimated to be worth around £6.6 billion,
with drug-related economic costs to the UK estimated at approximately
double this. The classification
system plays a key role in directing the resources devoted by
Government to tackling illegal drugs, with around 75% of this
expenditure spent on enforcing drug laws.
The classification of illegal drugs is also a matter of significant
public concern and recent decisions regarding changes in classification,
most notably the reclassification of cannabis from Class B to
Class C, have been the subject of intense media debate. Perhaps
the strongest indicator of discontent over the current ABC classification
system came in January 2006, when the then Home Secretary, Rt.
Hon. Charles Clarke, announced that he would be undertaking a
root and branch review of the ABC system.
3. We held three evidence sessions in conjunction
with this case study, during which we heard from:
- The Chairman of the Advisory
Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) and Chairman of the ACMD
- The Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council
(MRC), Chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' (ACPO)
Drugs Committee, Director of the National Addiction Centre and
- The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for
policing, security and community safety.
4. The transcripts of these sessions are published
with this Report, together with the 14 written submissions received
in response to our call for evidence and requests for supplementary
information. In addition, we undertook a visit to the United States
as part of our over-arching inquiry, where we met, amongst others,
representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services,
National Institute on Drug Abuse, RAND Drug Policy Research Centre,
White House Office of Drug Control Policy, UN Office of Drugs
Policy and New York Police Department. We are grateful to all
those who helped organise the visit and contributed evidence to
this inquiry. We would also like to place on record our thanks
to our specialist adviser, Professor Michael Gossop, Head of Research
in the Addictions Directorate at the Maudsley Hospital in London.
1 www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/science_and_technology_committee/scitech091105.cfm. Back
Science and Technology Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2005-06,
Watching the Directives: Scientific Advice on the EU Physical
Agents (Electromagnetic Fields) Directive, HC 1030 Back
Ruth Levitt, Edward Nason, Michael Hallsworth, The evidence
base for the classification of drugs, Technical Report, RAND
Europe, March 2006, para 31, combined figures, www .rand.org/pubs/technical_reports/TR362/ Back
RAND Report, para 31 Back
HC Deb, 19 Jan 2006, col 983 Back