Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Paul Flynn MP


  1.  As a long-standing campaigner on issues relating to illegal drugs, I wish to make a short submission in contribution to this case study. I would also note my support for the submission made by Transform.

  2.  With very few exceptions, Government policy decisions on illegal drugs appear to be largely evidence free.

  3.  The Strategy Unit, based in No 10 Downing Street, produced a report in 2003 looking at policy to reduce the harm caused by illegal drugs. After much pressure and with the use of the Freedom of Information Act, the report was made public in 2005. The report reached conclusions which were surprising given the consensus about illegal drugs which tends to exist in Government against legalisation. A summary was provided by Transform (below) and concluded that current policies in the "war" on drugs had failed.

    —  Prohibition has failed to prevent or reduce the production of drugs.

    —  Prohibition has failed to prevent or reduce the trafficking/availability of drugs.

    —  Prohibition has failed to reduce levels of problematic drug use.

    —  Prohibition has inflated prices of heroin and cocaine, leading some dependent users to commit large volumes of acquisitive crime. Even if such supply interventions could further increase prices, this could increase harms, as dependent users commit more crime to support their habits.

  (Strategy Unit Drugs Project TDPF Executive Summary, Phase 1 Report: "Understanding the Issues")

  4.  It is clear that, in spite of the powerful conclusions of this report, it has not been incorporated into Government policy.


  5.  The announcement by the Home Secretary to maintain the classification of cannabis as a Class C drug proves that the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has been considered and largely followed. In the same statement the plea for the prohibition of the drug Khat was rightly rejected. Ministers have not bowed to popular pressure in these instances.


  6.  Prior to the General Election 2005, the Drugs Act classified magic mushrooms as a Class A drug. This is contrary to evidence that the Home Office itself presented as part of its argument supporting the change. In answer to a Parliamentary Question, I was given a list of the evidence used. None of these documents gave cause for concern.

  7.  The conclusions of the risk assessment by the Coordination Centre for the Assessment and Monitoring of new drugs (CAM) and the article by Hasler et al both suggest that public health factors are not a main determinant of policy. The CAM report states in its conclusion, "the use of paddos does not, on balance, present any risk to the health of the individual" and "the risk to public health is therefore judged to be low." The Hasler article concludes "our investigation provided no cause for concern that administration of PY to healthy subjects is hazardous with respect to somatic health."

  8.  The policy appears to have been driven by something other than evidence. Magic mushrooms present very little danger to public health (the ONS records one death from mushroom poisoning since 1993) and this policy ignores the fact that traders in mushrooms were very clear that they could advise customers about potential risks. The classification of one class of mushroom could create more harm by encouraging an unchecked trade more likely to involve those with malicious intent. Other more dangerous mushrooms, not covered by the current law, could be substituted for those that are prohibited.

January 2006

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