7 Alternatives to Prohibition?|
213. In the terms of reference to our inquiry, we
asked "Whether detailed consideration ought to be given to
alternative ways of tackling the drugs dilemma, as recommended
by the Select Committee in 2002 (The Government's Drugs Policy:
Is It Working?, HC 318, 2001-02)." This was partly in response
to the calls for the liberalisation of drug policy by a number
of current and former South American Presidents as discussed in
Comparison with alcohol
214. The Government's 2010 drug strategy also covers
alcohol addiction as the Government "recognises that severe
alcohol dependence raises similar issues and that treatment providers
are often one and the same." It is emphasised that alcohol
plays "an important part in the cultural life of this country,
with large numbers employed in production, retail and the hospitality
industry. Pubs, bars and clubs contribute to community and family
life and also generate valuable revenue to the economy."
However, it notes that alcohol is a regulated product and that
"some individuals misuse it, contributing to crime and anti-social
behaviour, preventable illness and early death."
215. The comparison between drugs controlled under
the Misuse of Drugs Act 1974 and alcohol is one that has been
raised throughout this inquiry. Some witnesses have argued that
prohibition didn't work in the United States in the early part
of the 20th Century and that criminalisation of drug
use is simply repeating a failed experiment.
The war on drugs was never winnable, on the basis
that the numbers of people who use have risen year on year on
year to such extraordinarily high levels; it was never going to
be a war that was going to be winnable; in the same way that the
war on alcohol, in terms of prohibition in the 1920s and 1930s,
was never going to be winnable, unless the numbers could be kept
down to a level low enough to keep organised crime and criminality
out of the supply side.
However others have argued that this is a poor comparator:
If you have all day we can go into the problem of
alcohol, which I think in this country should be much more severely
restricted. I think we should return to the 1915 licensing laws,
at the very least. But to prohibit a drug that had been in common
use for hundreds or indeed thousands of yearsor in the
case of the United States had never been illegaland to
try and introduce laws prohibiting it; laws, I might add, that
had exactly the same failure as our anti-drug laws, in that they
prosecuted supply and transport but not possession. So to appeal
to that, and say that failed and, therefore, any attempt to not
so much prohibit as to interdict and discourage the use of drugs,
to say that, because of that one particular, individual, specific
failure, in a culture very different to our own, we can never
attempt, ever again in the rest of the history of the human race,
to try and prevent the spread of unpleasant, damaging and dangerous
drugs, just seems to me to be, again, illogical and not evidence-based.
216. Others have used alcohol as a warning rather
than a comparison when asked about whether drugs laws ought to
be liberalised, highlighting the fact that the harm caused by
prohibition may well be outweighed by the benefits of reduced
use as a result of that same prohibition.
Professor Strang told us that
If you look over the fence at the alcohol and the
tobacco fields, where we have much better evidence, we know this
is a price-elastic commodity, that if you make it easier for people
to access these products and make it more price accessible, the
levels of use will increase and the levels of harm that result
from that will increase. On that basis, I would not be in favour
of relaxing it.
217. There are also contradictory arguments regarding
the relative harm of alcohol and illicit drugs. In November 2010,
Professor Nutt, Dr King and Lawrence Phillips (on behalf of the
International Scientific Committee on Drugs) published an article
'Drug harms in the UK: a multi-criteria decision analysis'.
Using a multi-criteria decision analysis, the ISCD identified
sixteen harms. Nine relate to the harms that a drug produces in
the individual and seven to the harms to others both in the UK
and overseas. These harms are clustered into five subgroups representing
physical, psychological, and social harms.
Figure 4: Evaluation criteria organised by harms
to users and harms to others, and clustered under physical, psychological
and social effects.
Source: David J Nutt, Leslie A King, Lawrence
D Phillips, 'Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis',
The Lancet, Vol 376, Issue 9752 (6 November 2010), pp 1558-1565
Using these criteria, the Committee ranked 20 drugs
according to the harms to users and the harms to others. Finally
they combined the scores to rank the drugs by their harmfulness.
By virtue of its harms to others, alcohol was ranked as the most
Figure 5: Drugs ordered by their harm scores
Source: David J Nutt, Leslie A King, Lawrence
D Phillips, 'Drug harms in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis',
The Lancet, Vol 376, Issue 9752 (6 November 2010), pp 1558-1565
218. We asked Professor David Nutt whether he thought
drugs ought to be decriminalised:
Absolutely, yes, no question about that. I think
the Dutch model, the Portuguese model, the current Spanish model
are all very rational approaches. They would reduce harm in society
because what we see now is a rising, rising, rising tide of damage
from alcohol. There is no doubt a lot of people drink because
it is legal and if there was an opportunity to use cannabis in
a coffee shop-like model, they would not drink.
He was also asked to explain why he considered tobacco
to be less harmful than alcohol
alcohol harms a lot of other people in society through
traffic accidents, through violence, domestic violence. Tobacco,
by and large, just kills the people who smoke. Now we have legislation
to stop people smoking in private places. Most tobacco smokers
just harm themselves.
This answer is surprising because it is generally
accepted that whilst alcohol may influence the behaviour of those
who imbibe it, it bears no responsibility in itself. Rather those
that are responsible are they that choose to drive whilst drunk
or commit acts of violence. When we put this suggestion to Professor
Nutt, he seemed not to accept it.
Most domestic violence is alcohol-fuelled. Okay,
you can debate whether it is causal or not but the fact is less
alcohol in the home equates to less violence. [...] Alcohol is
a major factor in violence across society, in the home, on the
streets, at social events. It is not causal but it is an unfortunate
aggravating factor so if you reduce the amount of intoxication
you will reduce violence, we know that. There is a great example
in my book about Euro 2000 when two separate countries had two
different ways of dealing with the drinking British football supporter.
The country that gave them less strong alcohol, the Netherlands,
had much less violence than the country that gave them strong
alcohol, Belgium. We know therefore that less alcohol means less
violence; that is a fact.
219. We would emphasise that alcohol, like all other
drugs has no sentience. It may impair the judgement of those who
consume it but the responsibility must nonetheless lie with the
individual. If you accept the argument that alcohol is itself
responsible for violence then it also stands that heroin is responsible
for acquisitive crime or that cocaine may be responsible for football
hooliganism. Use of all psychoactive substances can lead to the
impairment of judgement with various associated harms. The difference
is that alcohol is widely available and more socially acceptable.
In the UK, there are around 10 million adults in the UK who smoke
cigarettes. Each year, smoking causes around 115,000 deaths, while
alcohol causes 35,000 whereas illicit drug use causes about 2,000
it does not necessarily follow that because some dangerous substances
are readily available, others should be. Dr Clare Gerada, giving
evidence as Chair of RCGPs and an ex-member of the ACMD, also
raised the issue of the health risks posed by cannabis smoking
when stating her opposition to decriminalisation of cannabis:
Cannabis is not a particularly good drug to be on.
It causes lung cancer. It causes oesophageal cancer. It causes
failure at school. It is an addiction in its own right, so in
terms of its health issues, I would not advocate a young person,
or any person, using cannabis.
we are here, I think, to protect
people from entering a life of substance misuse that could cause
them harm. I would say cannabis is not a good drug to be using
at any age. We have just spent the last 60 years sorting out tobacco,
let us not drop in the same problem now with cannabis and make
it much more available and pretend that it is a safe drug. It
is not a safe drug.
We are concerned that while significant public education
efforts are ongoing about the public health risks of smoking,
similar efforts are not apparent on the health risks of cannabis.
This is despite the fact there is substantial medical evidence
about the serious health risks posed by cannabis use, not just
as a possible gateway drug, but in its own right.
Decriminalisation and Legalisation
220. We took evidence from organisations which supported
the decriminalisation or legalisation of drug use as well as asking
the rest of our witnesses whether they believe that such systems
are viable. Decriminalisation is defined as
meaning that drugs are still illegal, but either
the police decide not to enforce the laws (a de facto model) or
that possession and use are dealt with through the civil system
(a de jure model).
An alternative model is Legalisation (or legal regulation)
which would regulate it meaning regulation of drug production,
supply and use. There are a number of examples of frameworks which
could be used for regulating production, supply and use of currently-controlled
drugs. The spectrum of regulation referenced by one of our witnesses,
Transform is described
in detail below.
||Prohibiting/criminalising non-medical production, supply, possession and use, with punitive sanctions. Intensity of enforcement and severity of penalties can vary. Decriminalisation of personal possession and use can operate within a prohibitionist framework.
||heroin, cocaine, cannabis, ecstasy, etc.
||criminal entrepreneurs, corrupt police and officials.
|Regulated markets||A range of regulatory controls are deployed covering drug production and trade, product, gatekeepers of supply, and user. Some drugs, preparations, and activities remain prohibited.
||prescription drugs, over the counter drugs, alcohol, tobacco.
||moderate to intense regulation by government agencies.
|Free market legalisation, or 'supermarket model'
||Drugs are legal and available for essentially unrestricted sale in the 'free market', like other consumer goods.
||corporate/private enterprise, with minimal regulation by government agencies, voluntary codes for retailers.
Source: Transform 'After the war on drugs: Blueprint
for regulation' (2009) p 16
221. There are several different policy measures
which fall under the term 'decriminalisation'.
- Threshold quantities: Many,
but not all, decriminalisation policies use maximum quantity thresholds
to distinguish between trafficking or sale offences (criminal
prosecution) and personal possession offences (administrative
penalties or non-prosecution). However, whilst some countries
claim to have adopted a decriminalisation model, the threshold
levels are so low that in practice the policy has no effect. Using
the example of cocaine, Mexico allows possession of up to 0.5
grams of cocaine without prosecution while Spain allows up to
7.5 gramsa difference of 1,400 per cent.
- Types of administrative penalties: Different
jurisdictions have different sanctions in place which an individual
can receive for an administrative or civil drug use or possession
offence. These include: fines, community service orders, warnings,
education classes, driver's or professional license suspensions,
travel bans, property confiscation, bans on associating with specified
individuals, mandatory reporting, termination of public benefits,
administrative arrest, or no penalty at all.
- Roles of the judiciary and police: Some jurisdictions,
such as the Australian states with civil penalty schemes and the
Czech Republic, allow the police to issue fines for small drug
offences in the field, similar to issuing a traffic violation.
Other jurisdictions, such as Brazil and Uruguay, require individuals
arrested for drug offences to appear in court before a judge to
determine the charge and receive an appropriate sentence, if any.
- Implementation: Despite the existence of a statutory,
judicial, or regulatory decriminalisation policy, a jurisdiction's
inability or unwillingness to implement that policy in practice
can make assessment of a policy's merits challenging. In Peru,
for example, researchers report police regularly detain individuals
arrested for decriminalised drug offences for long periods without
charge. In practice, for those in detention, such a system does
not resemble decriminalisation despite Peruvian law instructing
no penalty for certain minor possession offences.
222. There are a number of countries which have some
form of decriminalisation: Argentina; Armenia; Australia (South
Australia, Western Australia, Australian Capital Territory and
Northern Territory); Belgium; Brazil; Chile; Colombia; Czech Republic;
Estonia; Germany; Italy; Mexico; The Netherlands; Paraguay; Peru;
Poland; Portugal; The Russian Federation; Spain; Uruguay, and
the United States of America (State of California).
CASE STUDY: PORTUGAL
223. Several witnesses drew our attention to Portugal's
drug policy, a key component of which is the 'decriminalisation'
or 'depenalisation' of possession of small quantities of drugs
for personal use. In fact, although the term 'decriminalisation'
is commonly used to describe the regime in Portugal and some other
countries, 'depenalisation' is more accurate as while criminal
penalties are not applied, the possession of small quantities
of certain drugs is still technically an offence. We decided to
travel to Portugal to examine the policy in more detail, and to
establish a more rounded picture of the treatment of drug-users,
and those involved in the production, import, export, and supply
of illegal drugs in Portugal. Three Members of the Committee visited
Lisbon from 18 to 20 July 2012, for a programme of meetings and
visits which was organised by the British Embassy in Lisbon. We
are grateful to HM Ambassador Jill Gallard and her colleagues
at the Embassy for organising an interesting and informative visit.
224. We were warmly received by our Portuguese hosts
and we are grateful to all those who gave up their time and expertise
to assist us in understanding the Portuguese experience of dealing
with illegal drugs. HE João de Vallera, the Portuguese
Ambassador in London, hosted us to lunch before our visit, which
gave us an opportunity to discuss the Portuguese policy before
we visited the country.
The road to depenalisation
225. Portugal's international isolation under Salazar's
Estado Novo regime provided it with a degree of insulation
against the growing acceptance of recreational drug use in Western
Europe and North America during the 1960s. Significant cannabis
use came to Portugal after the Carnation Revolution of 1974, as
the end of the colonial wars in Angola and Mozambique saw the
return of many Portuguese nationals from the colonies, where cannabis
use had been widespread. The sudden growth in cannabis consumption
was followed by heroin along the same supply chain, via East Africa.
226. By the 1990s, problems associated with drug
use had become a major concern. Several people suggested that
the tipping point was a Eurobarometer survey in 1997 which identified
drug use as the biggest social problem facing Portugal, in the
eyes of the general public. The following year, the government
appointed a committee of experts to develop a new drugs strategy.
The committee recommended the depenalisation of possession of
small amounts of drugs for personal use, as part of a wider range
of measures which included education, harm reduction and treatment
for addicts. Dr
João Goulão, the National Drugs Co-ordinator and
a member of the 1998 Committee, was keen to stress that depenalisation
was not a "magic bullet" but, he suggested, it removed
some of the obstacles to addicts seeking treatment. The central
principle behind the committee's recommendations was that drug
addiction was a disease; that drug addicts were sick; and that
treating them as criminals did nobody any good.
227. A new law was passed in November 2000 to establish
"Dissuasion Commissions" to deal with those caught in
possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use. This legislation
was not uncontroversial at the time, and its opponents feared
that it would remove disincentives to drug use and turn Portugal
into a haven for drugs tourism. However, during our visit we were
struck by the broad consensus in support of the policy. Even MPs,
including many on the right, who had originally opposed the legislation
in Parliament told us that their fears had not been realised,
and the limited criticism we did hear tended to focus on matters
of detailsuch as the quantities of drugs which were defined
as being for personal userather than the principles behind
the policy. Indeed, despite asking everyone we met about their
views on the policy, we did not encounter a single person who
The Dissuasion Commission
228. We visited the offices of the Lisbon Commission
for the Dissuasion of Drug Addiction, one of 18 in mainland Portugal.
The President of the Commission is a clinical psychologist and
the two vice-presidents are a sociologist and a jurist. Doctors,
social workers and other people with an appropriate qualification
in the field of drug addiction can also be nominated to commissions.
The Commission is supported by a Technical Team of three social
workers and a clinical psychologist. The Commission typically
sees around eight people a day.
229. The Commission deals with drug users who have
been caught by the police in possession of small quantities of
drugs for personal use, where there is no other evidence to suggest
that they are involved in supplying drugs. For each drug, the
precise amount that constitutes possession for personal use is
defined in law, at a quantity that is supposed to equate to around
ten days' supply. Those amounts are set out in the table below.
|Cocaine (methyl ester of benzoylecgonine)
Provided by the Dissuasion Commission visited
230. Users are issued with a notice by the police
requiring them to attend the Commission within 72 hours. They
are first assessed by a member of the Technical Team, who then
discusses the user's circumstances with the Commission. This is
followed by a hearing, which is in practice quite informal and
takes place in an ordinary conference room. The main objective
of the hearing is to decide whether the user is addicted or not,
and to establish a picture of his or her drug use.
For a first offence, if the user is not an addict,
proceedings are suspended at this stage. If the user is an addict,
then proceedings are suspended if he or she agrees to undergo
treatment. The Commission may suspend proceedings if the user
has a previous record of possession, but will in practice usually
apply a sanction for second and subsequent offences. Suspension
lasts for up to two years, after which proceedings are discontinued.
During this time, proceedings can be resumed if the user re-offends,
or ceases to participate in any treatment on which the suspension
was dependent. The treatment provider is required to notify the
Commission of the user's participation every three months. The
Commission may also decide to dispose of proceedings with a verbal
warning, if it considers that this will be an effective deterrent
against further use.
231. The Commission has a number of penalties at
its disposal. They include
- Banning from the exercise of
a profession or occupation, namely those subject to licensing
requirements, when such exercise jeopardises the well being of
the consumer or third parties;
- Banning from certain places;
- Prohibiting the consumer from accompanying, housing
or receiving certain persons;
- Forbidding the consumer to travel abroad without
- Requiring the consumer to be present himself
periodically at a place to be indicated by the commission;
- Disenfranchisement, removing the right to be
granted or to renew a fire arms license for defence, hunting,
precision shooting or recreation;
- Seizure of objects belonging to the consumer
which represent a risk to him or her or to the community or which
encourage the committing of a crime or other offence;
- Privation from the right to manage the subsidy
or benefit attributed on a personal basis by public bodies or
services, which shall be managed by the organization managing
the proceedings or monitoring the treatment process, when agreed
to by the consumer.
- Impose a fine, though these may only be applied
to non-addicts, the principle being that fining a drug addict
is likely to push them towards further acquisitive crime.
232. Once a penalty has been decided, its imposition
on an addict may be suspended in favour of an order requiring
the addict to present him or herself for treatment, with a frequency
deemed necessary by the treatment provider. The imposition of
a penalty on a non-addict may be suspended if the Commission believes
this to be the most effective way of preventing future consumption.
233. We were told that it was possible for someone
attending the Commission to deny that they had been in possession
of drugsin effect, to plead not guiltybut that it
was very unusual for this to happen, as users did not see the
Commission as a hostile intervention. Users did not leave the
Commission with a criminal record and the fact that they had attended
was confidential (except for minors, whose parents were involved).
It was also unusual for people to fail to attend. The emphasis
was on treatment, and sanctions were used only as a last resort.
It was suggested that a periodic attendance order might only be
issued about once a year, for example. Ultimately, we were told
that somebody who simply refused to comply with the Commission
would be guilty of the offence of 'disobedience' but this was
virtually unheard of.
234. The proceedings and the outcome of the Commission
meetings are then placed on a central register which allows other
Dissuasion Commissions to access the information and ensure that
repeat offenders are treated as such. The central register is
also a vital tool in assessing the prevalence of drug use, creating
a profile of drug users and also establishing the availability
of each type of drug in each of the provinces. Not only does it
assist in evaluating the success of the policy, it also aids law
enforcement in creating a picture of supply.
Treatment of drug addiction
235. It was pointed out to us on more than one occasion
that depenalisation and the introduction of the dissuasion commissions
was only part of the story. Much of Portugal's success in tackling
drug-related harm was down to the provision of effective drug
treatment services. We were told that most of the patients at
the Centro das Taipas, the country's oldest specialist drug-treatment
centre, were self-referrals.
236. We were told, as we have been in the UK, that
alcohol is the biggest problem drug. Of the illegal drugs, heroin
and cocaine are generally regarded as the biggest source of problem
drug use and significant resources are directed at treating those
with opioid addiction, who account for more than 60% of all patients
undergoing drug treatment (compared with around 15% undergoing
treatment for cannabis use and slightly less for cocaine). The
proportion of new patients presenting with heroin addiction is,
however, falling, with ongoing treatment focused on the "old"
cohort of heroin users, many of whom are aged over 35.
237. Healthcare for drug users is organised through
the public health service, and co-ordinated by the Institute on
Drugs and Drug Addiction (IDT) and the Ministry of Health. This
was described to us as, in effect, a parallel healthcare system
for drug users, with complete vertical integration from the IDT
downwards. The Government plans to transfer this network of drug
treatment centres into the five regional health authorities, in
order to provide better integration with other aspects of healthcare,
as well as reducing costs which has caused some political controversy.
238. Preventing consumption of drugs is a high priority
for the new Portuguese Government. Cannabis is seen as a particular
problem as its use is very widespread. The Secretary of State
for Health (who is also a physician) told us that he thought the
social and medical harm associated with cannabis needed to be
emphasised to young people since many regard it as harmless. We
were told that mass-media campaigns had proved to be ineffective
and more targeted ways of getting the message across were being
tried. Medical professionals were involved in the training of
school teachers, so that they could communicate accurate messages
about the harms caused by drug use to their students.
239. It was suggested that the fall in heroin use
was likely to be a result of people becoming more aware of the
harmful effects but we heard conflicting views on the prevalence
of cannabis use. Some suggested that it had increased since depenalisation
but others did not believe it had.
240. Portugal continues to make strenuous efforts
to disrupt the supply of drugs, from street-level dealers to international
traffickers. We spoke to officers from the Public Security Police
(Polícia de Segurança Pública (PSP)),
the national police force which operates in Lisbon and other urban
areas; the Coastal Control Unit of the Republican National Guard;
the Autoridade Tributária e Aduaneira (AT), the
customs force which intercepts drugs at ports and airports; and
the Judicial Police (Polícia Judiciária),
the national force which deals with serious and organised crime.
We received the strong impression that the Portuguese authorities
continued to pursue drug traffickers and dealers with the same
rigour that one would find in the UK, the USA and other countries
where possession of small amounts of drugs is still an imprisonable
crime. There is no suggestion that depenalisation of drug users
has resulted in any more relaxed attitude to drug traffickers.
'It is also important to emphasise that the new policy in Portugal
does not appear to be associated with a social toleration of drug
use. Depenalisation need not imply 'coffee shops' on the Dutch
241. Officers from the PSP told us that the new law
had reduced the suspicion of the police among drug users, making
it easier for them to gather intelligence and to target dealers.
Users were not always co-operative, since they feared repercussions
if their assistance to the police became known to dealers, but
this could be dealt with by the police taking care to protect
their sources. It also liberated police resources to concentrate
on more serious crimes, since the process of issuing a summons
to attend a dissuasion commission was less time-consuming than
the process of making an arrest. One senior officer told us that,
having originally opposed the law, he now supported it, having
seen it in operation.
242. It is important to note that in the experience
of Portugal, depenalisation has by no means been the "cheap"
option. One argument often heard in favour of decriminalisation
is the potential savings available if the criminal justice system
no longer have to spend time and money targeting recreational
users. However, in his speech to the Committee's International
Conference on Drugs, the Portuguese Secretary of State for Health
was clear that depenalisation was not necessarily less expensive.
If you agree and accept that you are decriminalising
the use of certain harmful substances and give opportunities for
treatment, you must have in place good structures to attend to
everybody who needs treatment. It is not necessarily going to
be cheaper than putting people in jail, but apart from the humane
principles that rule medicine and politics in general, one has
also to consider that from the technical point of view we prefer
to spend money that way.
were impressed by what we saw of the Portuguese depenalised system.
It had clearly reduced public concern about drug use in that country,
and was supported by all political parties and the police. The
current political debate in Portugal is about how treatment is
funded and its governance structures, not about depenalisation
itself. Although it is not certain that the Portuguese experience
could be replicated in the UK, given societal differences, we
believe this is a model that merits significantly closer consideration.
THE LEGALISATION OF CANNABIS IN
WASHINGTON STATE AND COLORADO
244. In the US, eighteen states and the District
of Columbia have laws which allow the use of 'medical marijuana',
cannabis which is available on prescription.
On Tuesday 6 November, Washington State and Colorado legalised
the recreational use of cannabis. Both had previously legalised
the use of medical marijuana. The text of the ballot proposition
64 in Colorado read
Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution
concerning marijuana, and, in connection therewith, providing
for the regulation of marijuana; permitting a person twenty-one
years of age or older to consume or possess limited amounts of
marijuana; providing for the licensing of cultivation facilities,
product manufacturing facilities, testing facilities, and retail
stores; permitting local governments to regulate or prohibit such
facilities; requiring the general assembly to enact an excise
tax to be levied upon wholesale sales of marijuana; requiring
that the first $40 million in revenue raised annually by such
tax be credited to the public school capital construction assistance
fund; and requiring the general assembly to enact legislation
governing the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial
Colorado's measure allows possession and purchase
of as much as one ounce by those aged 21 and older, along with
permission to grow as many as six plants in private, secure areas.
The law requires Colorado's revenue department to adopt regulations
by July 1, 2013, on procedures for issuing a marijuana business
license, labelling requirements for marijuana products, restrictions
on advertising and civil penalties for not complying with the
245. The amendment passed in Washington State (Initiative
502) will allow those aged 21 years and older to buy as much as
one ounce of marijuana from a licensed retailer. The measure directs
the state liquor control board to regulate marijuana and tax its
sales at a rate of 25 percent. The board must set rules on marijuana
advertising, licensing producers, processors and retailers, and
limiting the number of retail outlets allowed in each county by
Dec. 1, 2013. Additionally, the amendment makes it illegal for
a motorist to have more than 5 nanograms of THC (an active ingredient
of marijuana) per millilitre of blood in their system. Initiative
502 dedicates a percentage of the tax revenue for substance-abuse
prevention, research, education, and healthcare, including $200,000
for cost-benefit evaluations by the Washington State Institute
for Public Policy.
246. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law
however and so anyone possessing under an ounce of marijuana in
Colorado or Washington is still subject to federal enforcement.
The Drug Enforcement Agency (the federal agency responsible for
enforcing the controlled substances laws, under which marijuana
remains a classified substance) would have to increase its presence
in both Washington and Coloradoat present, with the exception
of federal land and national parks, almost all possession arrests
are carried out by police at local or state level.
The budgetary implications of this would be significant, especially
at this time of austerity. However, there are a number of measures
which the federal government could use to enforce the law.
- Both legalisation measures
passed make mention of taxation upon marijuana. The Colorado state
ballot information booklet estimates that "state revenue
from sales taxes and licensing fees is expected to increase between
approximately $5.0 million and $22.0 million per year."
Potentially, the federal government could confiscate any money
raised through the taxation of marijuana on the basis that it
was the proceeds of an illegal transaction.
- Both states require a licensing system for marijuana
producers, processors and retailers. Such a system would identify
those supplying marijuana and so the US Department of Justice
could use this information to seize the marijuana and enforce
- The Inland Revenue Service could invoke a section
of the IRS code which disallows tax deductions if businesses traffic
in schedule I drugs (such as marijuana). The removal of tax deductions
would have significant financial implications for those businesses.
- Rather than enforcing sanctions against the businesses,
the federal government could threaten to enforce sanctions against
the property owners where marijuana is being produced or sold
(under federal law, any property leased to an illegal organisation
can be seized and confiscated). The federal government could also
threaten to investigate any bank which held accounts for marijuana-related
businesses for money laundering of drug profits.
There is no guarantee that any or all of the above
will happen. Firstly, federal government is made up a wide range
of agencies and officials and some may not wish to enforce laws
in a state which has democratically chosen to accede from them.
US attorneys (the chief federal prosecutor in each judicial district)
have a considerable amount of discretion as to whether to prosecute
a case. Each will have varying opinions as to the importance of
the enforcement of federal drug laws relating to marijuana and
some will have political ambitions which may help govern their
decisions as to the value of such prosecutions.
247. Although both Colorado and Washington have differing
systems of cannabis legalisation, both are based on private business.
In contrast, Uruguay announced in June that it was intending to
legalise cannabis with a state monopoly on production and sale.
Under the Government's proposal, Uruguayans older than 18 would
be able to register for a monthly pot ration of up to 30 grams
(1.06 ounces), though sales to foreigners would remain prohibited.
Sales would be taxed, with proceeds funding treatment for addicts
of harder drugs.The
bill to legalise marijuana and bring it under state control will
be tabled in Parliament in the near future and given the Government's
majority in the legislature, it is likely to pass within the next
248. The introduction of differing systems of marijuana
legalisation will allow us to see what legalisation looks like
in practice. All three systems are different as are any future
marijuana legalisation systems likely to be - there have been
seventeen proposed amendments to legalise marijuana in the US
and all of the proposed systems have been different.
Following the legalisation
of marijuana in the states of Washington and Colorado and the
proposed state monopoly of cannabis production and sale in Uruguay,
we recommend that the Government fund a detailed research project
to monitor the effects of each legalisation system to measure
the effectiveness of each and the overall costs and benefits of
Implications of discussing drugs
policy - politics and the media.
249. The UK Drugs Policy Commission is a body that
was set up in order to look at the evidence base for drugs policy.
It is a charity whose core funding is provided by the Esmée
Fairbairn Foundation, and which receives some funding from the
Home Office and the National Treatment Agency. Earlier this year
they published their final report, based on collected data and
interviews with those previously or currently involved in the
formation of drugs policy. Their report emphasised that although
many communities, families, treatment providers and increasingly
the police do not agree that drug policy is working, there remains
a surface political consensus about drug policy across the UK.
Probably most politicians are of the view that while
drug policy may be imperfect, the alternatives are too risky or
uncertain and, as one ex-Home Secretary said to us, the case for
change has not been made adequately made.
It is seen as particularly controversial to suggest
that drug laws should be amended, which is perhaps why ministers
and senior professionals generally only speak their mind about
drug policy once they have left office, or in the early stages
of their careers. 
250. Former British ministers who have called for
a reform in drugs policy after leaving include Bob Ainsworth,
Clare Short, Tony Banks, Mo Mowlam, Roy Jenkins, Peter Lilley,
Alan Duncan, Michael Portillo, Lord Baker and Lord Lawson.
In a poll carried out between May and June 2012, UKDPC found that
75% of MPs felt that it can be difficult to have an objective
debate about the best solution because drug policy is such a controversial
issue. 77% of the MPs surveyed disagreed with the statement that
current policies are effective in tackling the problems caused
by illegal drugs. However, only 31% of the MPs supported consideration
of changes to the drug laws so that possession of small quantities
of currently illegal drugs for personal use only is not treated
as a criminal offence,
as is the case with the Portuguese system. In contrast, a YouGov
poll of the general public for The Sun newspaper carried out less
than a month later found that 60% of respondents supported the
Portuguese system of depenalisation.
251. The importance of evidence-based policy was
also cited by the UK Drugs Policy Commission in their final report
but noted that whilst research was improving in regards to work
done by a cross-departmental drug research coordination group
and the intention to boost international collaboration on drug
research, "the reality is, at a time of austerity across
all government departments, research has been afforded a lower
budget priority. Government spending on research to support the
drug strategy has declined over the past few years."
Government-commissioned research and data collection is vital
as it can often fill a gap in knowledge which is not a priority
of other commissioning bodies.
252. As with many different subject matters, use
of anecdotal evidence and media reporting of research and data
collection can sometimes lead to a distortion of facts. In November
2009, a data analyst published a blog called deadly drugs. Using
information on drug related deaths from the office of national
statistics, he analysed newspaper coverage to see what percentage
of deaths had been reported upon. He found that whilst 2% of alcohol-related
deaths and 7% of paracetemol-related deaths had received coverage,
100% of ecstasy-related deaths had been reported.
253. In October 2009, Professor David Nutt was dismissed
from his role as the Chair of the ACMD by the then-Home Secretary,
Alan Johnson MP. A pamphlet, based on a lecture given by Professor
Nutt in July 2009, was published on the internet. The lecture
covered a range of topics but the pamphlet was picked up by the
media primarily on the basis that Professor Nutt had repeated
his assertion (as published in a 2007 Lancet article) that
cannabis was less harmful than alcohol. Cannabis had been re-graded
as a Class B drug (against the recommendations of the ACMD) in
January 2009, a decision which the then Home Secretary Jacqui
Smith has recently conceded "caused confusion and dissent".
254. Following the media coverage, the then Home
Secretary, Alan Johnson MP, asked Professor Nutt to resign as
Chair of the ACMD. When Professor Nutt refused, he fired him.
He later explained his reasons for doing so in a letter to The
He was asked to go because he cannot be both a government
adviser and a campaigner against government policy. [...] As for
his comments about horse riding being more dangerous than ecstasy,
which you quote with such reverence, it is of course a political
rather than a scientific point.
Responding in The Times, Professor Nutt said:
I gave a lecture on the assessment of drug harms
and how these relate to the legislation controlling drugs. According
to Alan Johnson, the Home Secretary, some contents of this lecture
meant I had crossed the line from science to policy and so he
sacked me. I do not know which comments were beyond the line or,
indeed, where the line was.
Between October 2009 and April 2010, a further seven
members of the ACMD resignedfive citing concerns about
the termination of Prof. Nutt's contract and two citing concerns
about what they felt was a politically-motivated ban on Mephedrone.
It is perhaps unsurprising that in the aforementioned poll of
MPs carried out by the UKDPC that 76% agreed with the statement
that "the process of making policy about illegal drugs should
make more use of evidence and research than it currently does."
255. The Government's 2010 drug strategy states that
"The UK is of course not unique in having to confront drug
misuse. So, as we build upon this strategy, we are committed to
continuing to review new evidence on what works in other countries
and what we can learn from it."
When discussing the Portuguese system of depenalisation, the Home
Secretary remarked that
I think it is ratherif I can put it like thisperhaps
less clear than it is sometimes claimed to be. I know that it
is constantly being adduced as an example of where decriminalisation
and a different approach can have an impact on drugsI was
just looking for some figures that I know were in my briefing.
However, I am not convinced that that has actually had the impact
that everybody feels it has had.
The Home Secretary was asked if she had discussed
the Portuguese system with her counterparts there as, following
a recent visit as part of this inquiry, we had been surprised
by the high levels of cross-party support for the system. She
I personally have not had conversations with individuals
in Portugal. ... Of course, we have looked at what has happened
in Portugal and elsewhere, but the facts, as I say, give a slightly
different picture than the one that is sometimes portrayed. ...
I suspect we may come from a fundamentally different point of
view in relation to drugs. I have some very clear views that we
should be doing everything we can to deal with drugs, having seen
some of the impacts of drugs on individuals and on families.
256. In written evidence to the inquiry, the Prime
Minister highlighted the importance of using an evidence base
to form drugs policy. He said that
the Government acknowledges the value of keeping
the debate open and I am grateful to the Committee for its work
in this complex area. We attach great importance to keeping abreast
of the evidence both here and abroad to inform our drugs policies.
policy ought to be evidence-based as much as possible but we acknowledge
that there is an absence of reliable data in some areas. We therefore
recommend the Government allocated ring fenced funding to drugs
policy research going forward. Such a funding stream would most
appropriately sit with the Medical Health and Research Council
so that the evidence base for prevention and recovery aims of
the Drugs Strategy can be strengthened, although cross disciplinary
applications in this area will be vital.
258. We recommend
that the responsible minister from the Department of Health and
the responsible minister from the Home Office together visit Portugal
in order to examine its system of depenalisation and emphasis
259. As our
predecessor Committee supported in their 2002 report, we recommend
that the Government initiate a discussion within the Commission
on Narcotic Drugs of alternative waysincluding the possibility
of legalisation and regulationto tackle the global drugs
260. We welcome
the Government's efforts to make clear its commitment to reducing
drug misuse and tackling the consequences of drug misuse. We also
recommend that the Government instigate a public debate on all
of the alternatives to the current drugs policy, as part of the
Royal Commission (see paragraph 132).
261. We have
made a number of recommendations regarding the need for further
evidence gathering. We believe that this would be most effective
if it were co-ordinated through one body. The appropriate body
to do this would, in our view, be the Advisory Council on the
Misuse of Drugs, which is already tasked with advising the Home
Secretary on classification decisions. It is logical that the
body which is responsible for formulating scientific advice to
ministers should also have a role to play in coordinating the
gathering of scientific evidence on the subject.
263 Home Office , The Government's Drug Strategy
(December 2010), p 7 Back
Babor et al, Drug Policy and the Public Good (Oxford University
Press, 2010), p 79 Back
David J Nutt, Leslie A King, Lawrence D Phillips, 'Drug harms
in the UK: a multicriteria decision analysis', The Lancet,
Vol 376, Issue 9752 (6 November 2010), pp 1558-1565 Back
UK Drug Policy Commission, A fresh approach to drugs: the
final report of the UK Drugs Policy Commission, p80 Back
Ev 135 [Release] Back
Ev 152 Back
Release, A Quiet Revolution: drug decriminalisation policies
in practice across the globe ( July 2012), p 12-13 Back
An English version of the Committee's Report is available on the
website of the IDT: www.idt.pt/EN/RelacoesInternacionais/Documents/2009/estrategia_eng.pdf Back
Law 30/2000, http://www.idt.pt/EN/Legislacao/Legislacao%20Internacional%20Ficheiros/Decree-law/l30_00.pdf Back
Ev 216 Back
282 http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite?blobcol=urldata&blobheader=application/pdf&blobkey=id&blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobwhere=1251822971738&ssbinary=true Back
Caulkins et al, Marijuana Legalisation: What everyone needs
to know (Oxford University Press, 2012), p 185 Back
285 http://www.colorado.gov/cs/Satellite?blobcol=urldata&blobheader=application/pdf&blobkey=id&blobtable=MungoBlobs&blobwhere=1251822971738&ssbinary=true Back
Caulkins et al, Marijuana Legalisation: What everyone needs
to know (Oxford University Press, 2012), p 188-190 Back
Caulkins et al, Marijuana Legalisation: What everyone needs
to know (Oxford University Press, 2012), p 188 Back
Informal meeting with Professor Caulkins Back
UK Drug Policy Commission, A fresh approach to drugs: the final
report of the UK Drugs Policy Commission, p 139 Back
Max Daly & Steve Sampson, Narcomania: A Journey Through
Britain's Drug World (William Heinemann 2012), p 251 Back
UK Drug Policy Commission, A fresh approach to drugs: the final
report of the UK Drugs Policy Commission, p 138 Back
Radio Times interview. Referenced in http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9688040/Jacqui-Smith-admits-cannabis-reclassification-was-wrong.html Back
Alan Johnson 'Why Professor David Nutt was shown the door', The
Guardian , 2 November 2009 http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/nov/02/drug-policy-alan-johnson-nutt Back
David Nutt, 'Penalties for drug use must reflect harm', The
Times, 2 November 2009 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6898671.ece. Back
Ev w244 Back
Home Office , The Government's Drug Strategy (December
2010), p 4 Back
Qq 68-69 Back
Ev w380 Back