Examination of Witnesses (Questions 446-469)|
26 APRIL 2006
Q460 Dr Iddon: The previous panel
gave us the impression this morning that the ACMD were rushed
into making a decision. You have just implied that more research
is needed on cannabis so why did the ACMD make a recommendation
to change the classification from B to C in view of what the previous
panel and in view of what you have told us just now?
Mr Barnes: Firstly I was not on
the ACMD, which recommended a change, the original recommendation
was made and, as you know, it was not just the ACMD but in its
recent report it did say, if I remember correctly, that there
was a need for on-going and more research into the issue. It was
asked by the home secretary to look again at cannabis re-classification
and under the Act it had to do so. It spent two days considering
the evidence. It was not rushed into a decision, it was at least
a nine month process in terms of capturing the data, witnesses
were called to give evidence on the first day of the inquiry as
well. The report itself went through various stages. It went to
the technical committee, it went back to the full ACMD. It was
not a rushed process but in terms of reaching its conclusion to
keep the classification at C but with a list of other recommendations
as well, not least the need for a robust and comprehensive public
education campaign, it could only base its decision on the evidence
that we currently have.
Q461 Dr Iddon: Do we have it right
now? Is cannabis in the right classification system?
Mr Rolles: The problems with the
ACMD's deliberations were not that they did not look at all the
evidence of the impact of cannabis on mental health and so on,
but their decision in terms of recommendation for re-classification
or not was based on an assumption that re-classification has some
impact on levels of use and therefore mental health of cannabis
users and there is absolutely no evidence at all to suggest it
does so the whole exercise is just a big distraction. The whole
thing is about the classification system and what impact that
has on harms and because we do not measure it we have no idea
so you can argue until you are blue in the face about which category
it should be in. I have been trying to think of a metaphor for
this and the best one I can come up with is that it is like arguing
over what colour to paint a square wheel. Even if all the experts
agree it should be blue it does not matter because that wheel
does not turn. The classification system does not do what it is
supposed to do, it does not reduce harm, it does not reduce misuse,
it does not reduce mental health problems. In fact it seems to
do the exact opposite so the whole thing is an exercise in distraction
as we are concerned.
Q462 Dr Iddon: Have we not got it
right based on the evidence available?
Mr Barnes: Yes, but let us keep
it under review. I think coming back to the issue of researchand
I was interested in Michael Rawlins' comments about ecstasyfirstly
our knowledge base changes over time in terms of the harms or
otherwise that the drugs themselves can do. Also the way that
those harms interact with individuals and why society changes
over time. Drugs do change in fashion and in use so research itself
has to be an evolving on-going process. A word of caution is that
we have to be careful that the research itself does not overly
drive the public policy responses because a piece of research
could reach what appears to be quite a firm, definite conclusion.
If you respond too quickly to that and then find that a later
piece of research contradicts or challengesas so often
happens, not just in the drugs fieldthat previous research,
you are going to have a system of drugs bobbing in and out of
classification. That would not be a better response I do not think.
Q463 Dr Iddon: I hope we are talking
about peer review as well.
Mr Barnes: Yes.
Q464 Chairman: Lesley, yes or no?
Mrs King-Lewis: Only no in a few
years time once we have evaluated the decision.
Q465 Mr Devine: Today the Scottish
Police Federation are debating the legalisation of drugs and as
politicians you can imagine our primary role is to be re-elected.
If we came out and said, "Legalise all drugs" we would
be crucified by the media. I just wonder about media attention
and how you think that that influences government decision making
and how do we get what you want, a reasonable debate in the media
and a discussion with young people about the real impact of drugs.
Mr Rolles: I think the problem
really is that we have two generations of demonising drugs and
demonising drug users and it is a highly politicised area. It
is a very emotive issue and it is very difficult to step back
from all that and just look at the evidence and rationally discuss
the alternatives. I think as politicians it is behoven upon you
to say, "Okay, this policy we have at the moment, all the
outcomes are not what we would expect, they seem to be going the
wrong way, are there other alternatives we can look at and consider
in a rational and scientific way?" I think the key to that
is to move away from its emotive war on drugs rhetoric or some
of the polarised debate where you have the drug warriors on the
one hand and the evangelical drug legalisers on the other hand
and consider that actually there is a lot of common ground. We
all want to reduce the harm drugs cause, let us look at the policy
alternatives and see from the evidence which one is most likely
to achieve the best outcomes. I think that by approaching it in
a rational, non-confrontational way we can have a sensible debate
and it does not necessarily mean that your election chances are
going to be jeopardised.
Mr Barnes: My concern when we
debate legislation is that there is a danger of focussing on that
as the issue when actually there is a long way to go in the meantime
in terms of incremental, radical and potentially controversial
reform. It is at that stage itself that it is quite difficult
to have an objective, informed debate. The recent front page article
in The Times claimed "cocaine floods playgrounds"
on the basis of an apparent report that showed an increase in
cocaine use amongst seven to 15 year olds from one to 2%. That
was the headline that parents on a Saturday morning would have
seen when they opened their papers.
The issue of crystal meth, some of the ways that that has been
reportedI know it is easy to criticise the media, we all
so itquite frankly has been irresponsible. I see in the
ITV news van as the lead a story about Britain on the verge of
a crystal meth explosion. The tea-time news explained that details
about how to manufacture it are on the website and can be made
with home made ingredients. Just coming back to the issue of the
ACMD, when the recommendation was published by the home secretary,
members of the ACMD were contacted by The Daily Mail to
be asked, "Have you ever used drugs?" When we look at
the issue of the transparency of the ACMD bear in mind that the
people who sit on that committee have a very difficult role, have
to tackle and make judgments on very difficult and potentially
2 Note by the witness: Although any increase
is a concern, the actual increase was from 1.4 or 1.5% to 1.9%.
Mrs King-Lewis: We are keen to
move the debate from a criminal justice angle to a public health,
really informing the public, the young people in particular, of
the different levels of drugs and the different and varying harms
that they can do to themselves. We need a much more rational debate.
Q466 Dr Iddon: Bearing in mind that
it appears that fresh magic mushrooms were put in Class A because
psilocin and psilocybin were already there (which, of course,
they contain) do you think we got it right in classifying fresh
magic mushrooms as Class A drugs?
Mrs King-Lewis: No.
Mr Rolles: Absolutely not. There
was a legal market there; that legal market did not seem to be
causing a huge amount of problems before the 2005 Drugs Act but
there were clearly issues in that the sale of these magic mushrooms
was completely unregulated and unlicensed. What Transform was
suggesting was that vendors were licensed and appropriate controls
were put in in terms of age and information available at point
of sale and various other appropriate restrictions. What did not
happen in the Misuse of Drugs Act is that the regulatory impact
assessment that was done on that particular clause within that
particular Act should have, under regulatory impact assessment
guidelines, considered in detail what the different options were
and they did not consider in any detail the regulatory option,
it was a throw away line in that regulatory impact assessment.
Q467 Chairman: Martin, yes or no?
Mr Barnes: I would say no.
Q468 Dr Iddon: Were the ACMD consulted
Mr Barnes: I am not aware that
the full council were asked to deliberate on this. I think because
it was going through primary legislation and I think it was wrong
for the home secretary to seek to enact it in primary legislation
without properly consulting the ACMD and giving it time to deliberate
on it. In terms of the classification the evidence has indicated
that it is in the wrong classification, but I suspect that if
the home secretary is presented with a fully considered report
from the ACMD recommending change I think the answer would be
Q469 Dr Iddon: Is that going to happen?
Mr Barnes: I am not aware that
the ACMD is planning to look at it; it certainly has not been
asked by the home secretary to look at the classification of magic
Chairman: On that note could I thank
you. I am sorry it has been a helter-skelter run through, but
the bell is just about to go for the announcement of the session.
Steve Rolles, Martin Barnes and Lesley King-Lewis thank you very,
very much indeed for helping us today.
2 and I think to inform that role and to do it robustly
there has to be some degree of protection in terms of those individuals
fearing that they have the confidence to expose themselves in
that way and take part in that process. Back