Home Affairs Committee - Drugs: Breaking the CycleWritten evidence submitted by Parents Against Lethal Addictive Drugs [DP051]


1.1 Parents Against Lethal Addictive Drugs is a drug education voluntary organisation which passionately supports the Government’s view that “drug laws must accurately reflect the relative harms of different drugs if they are to persuade young people in particular of the dangers of misusing drugs”. We believe this was the original intention of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

1.2 During the Second Reading of the Misuse of Drugs Bill in 1970, Home Secretary Reginald Maudling told Parliament:

One young man said to me, “You like whisky. I like pot. Why can you have whisky while I cannot smoke pot? … Why is one prohibited and the other allowed?”

The answer to that question we must get across to both sides with the greatest clarity… …we have not made our story about cannabis credible. We have only ourselves to blame for the fact that the public, and especially the younger members of the public, do not find this story a convincing one. I hope that together we may find the means of making the story a really convincing one.

1.3 Forty years later we have been unable to discover anyone, politician or scientist, who can explain “Why is one prohibited and the other allowed”. We dearly hope the Committee will find a definitive and credible answer.

1.4 After years of attempting to answer this question ourselves we have concluded that there is no evidence that Parliament intended the Misuse of Drugs Act to exclude alcohol and tobacco from the Act or for blanket prohibition to be the only regulatory option considered by the ACMD and Government. Parliament intended the Misuse of Drugs Act to tackle the Misuse of all Drugs, not all Use of only Controlled Drugs.

1.5 If the fundamental legal concerns we outline below are considered to have any possible validity by the Committee then we recommend that those concerns are examined first.

The Misuse ofDrugs

2.1 There is a widespread failure to use the word “drugs” in accordance with the Misuse of Drugs Act, instead confusing it with the term “controlled drugs”.

2.2 The Committee has not been immune even in its terms of reference: “The relationship between drug and alcohol abuse”; here the word “drug” is used incorrectly to mean “controlled drugs”, thereby denying that alcohol is a drug. Next, “The comparative harm and cost of legal and illegal drugs” uses the word “drugs” correctly.

2.3 To avoid identifying alcohol and tobacco as drugs the word “substance” is often used, for example “The impact of the transfer of functions of the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse to Public Health England and how this will affect the provision of treatment”. In fact the NTA deals only with drugs covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act, both legal and illegal. “Substance Misuse” should properly refer to the many commonalities between drug and food misuse, especially dependency, but this integrated approach is prevented by the improper application of the term to drugs alone.

2.4 To avoid suggesting that the legal drugs alcohol and tobacco might ever be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, other legal drugs considered for control are referred to as “legal highs”, for example “The availability of ‘legal highs’ and the challenges associated with adapting the legal framework to deal with new substances”. The only difference between alcohol and tobacco and the “legal highs” is that “legal highs” are drugs used by minorities and so make easy scapegoats.

2.5 Alcohol and tobacco are harmful drugs and are therefore subject to the Misuse of Drugs Act. This is a legal fact. The ACMD and Government accept this. Children as young as five years old are taught at school that alcohol and tobacco are legal drugs.

2.6 Politicians who say “drugs are illegal” are either ignorant, deluded or lying. We believe this statement is an example of a Big Lie, a propaganda technique defined by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf as a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”.

2.7 So-called “drug prohibitionists” do not want drugs prohibited and have never called for the prohibition of all drugs; they only want the prohibition of drugs used by minorities. Recreational drug use in the UK is entirely accepted. No organisation campaigns for full drug prohibition, for example by campaigning for alcohol and tobacco to be banned by, say, 2050.

2.8 The harmfulness of alcohol has been assessed under the Misuse of Drugs Act as class A. It is a fact that the Prime Minister is a class A drug user.

2.9 The most fundamental fact is that recreational drug users are unequal before the law. The Home Affairs Committee’s 2002 drug report noted that “Legal drugs, such as tobacco and alcohol, are responsible for far greater damage both to individual health and to the social fabric in general than illegal ones. …Substance misuse is a continuum perhaps artificially divided into legal and illegal activity”. Only when the drug issue is re-humanised, by focusing on the people involved, can we then appreciate that citizens involved with equally harmful recreational drugs are also “artificially divided” into law-abiding drug users and criminals.

Misuse of the Law

3.1 We have been unable to discover any evidence that Parliament intended the Misuse of Drugs Act to be applied unequally to users of equally harmful recreational drugs.

3.2 Two years before the Act’s introduction, the Wootton report had exposed the discrimination between those involved with traditional drugs used by the majority, alcohol and tobacco, and those involved with non-traditional drugs used by minorities, initially immigrants, then our rebellious young. The report stated:

…it is impossible to make out a firm case against cannabis as being potentially a greater personal or social danger than alcohol. … Tobacco-smoking is, of course, the most widespread “drug-addiction” in our society.

3.3 The Misuse of Drugs Act was intended to remedy this inequality before the law by allowing a flexible framework whereby expert scientific opinion—independent of public opinion, political pressure and existing law—could gradually alter public and political opinion until the new Act could be implemented equally.

3.4 We believe political dependence on public opinion, international political opinion and existing law has lead successive governments to undermine Parliament’s intention to the extent that it amounts to a perversion of the course of justice.

International Law

4.1 The Home Affairs Committee’s 2002 drug report stated “The United Kingdom is one of many signatories to several international treaties on drugs, which constitute a fairly restrictive cradle around our own legislative regime. Significant changes, such as the legalisation of some or all drugs, could not be pursued unilaterally without transgressing the treaties, and could therefore only follow their renegotiation”.

4.2 The Government confirmed this view when replying to the Science and Technology Committee’s report, Making a Hash of It, in 2006: “the Government is not free to legislate entirely as it pleases. It must do so within the parameters set by the Conventions”.

4.3 We believe this view is wrong. The Government has ratified the UN drug Conventions but Parliament deliberately chose not to incorporate the Conventions into domestic law to enable flexibility of the Misuse of Drugs Act. Any “restrictive cradle” is political, not legal.

4.4 In contrast Parliament has chosen to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law. The Human Rights Act requires that laws be applied equally and without discrimination on the grounds of property (ie drug type) or legal status.

Parliament’s Intention

5.1 The purpose of the Misuse of Drugs Bill was outlined by Prime Minister Harold Wilson in the 1969 Debate on the Queen’s Speech. He said the Bill “will not only bring all the existing powers under one Act, but will give [the Home Secretary] powers ….to devise appropriate regimes of control for any drug, new or old, according to its legitimate use, its dangers and its social effects” (emphasis added).

5.2 Introducing the Bill to Parliament in 1970, Home Secretary James Callaghan indicated the problems to be addressed saying “our present Statutes have substantial weaknesses which I can summarise: Separate Acts deal each with only limited number of drugs. …The law preserves an artificial distinction between narcotics and other drugs which is now outmoded, and the law is slow to operate. These are the deficiencies”.

5.3 Re-introducing the Bill after the election of 1970, Home Secretary Reginald Maudling explained: “The object here is to make, so far as possible, a more sensible differentiation between drugs. It will divide them according to their accepted dangers and harmfulness in the light of current knowledge and it will provide for changes to be made in classification in the light of new scientific knowledge. Schedule 2 has been drawn up on the basis of the lists of drugs controlled by the 1965 and 1964 Acts in order, and no more than this, to provide for a smooth transition to the new system of control. We have taken those lists of drugs and attempted to put them into the Bill in the order in which we think they should be classified of harmfulness and danger” (emphasis added).

5.4 Parliament understood that tobacco and alcohol were drugs within the scope of the proposed Act and no assurance was given that these drugs would be permanently excluded. At the start of the first introduction of the Bill, Mr Speaker said “Before the debate begins, may I announce that I have not selected the reasoned Amendment … That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Misuse of Drugs Bill on the grounds that the Bill omits any reference to the most dangerous drug currently available, namely tobacco. … The points made in the Amendment … may be made during the debate”. Also paragraph 1.2 above briefly noted the Home Secretary’s extensive comparison between whisky and pot, in relation to the issue of individual rights.

5.5 Parliament was clear that prohibition was only one means of control possible under the new Act. The ACMD and Government could recommend to Parliament a regulatory system for controlled drugs similar to alcohol and tobacco. Harold Wilson referred to “appropriate regimes of control” while Home Secretary Reginald Maudling used the phrase “any regulations”. The Misuse of Drugs Act itself clearly indicates that the ACMD and Home Secretary should consider all regulatory options and not restrict their recommendations to Parliament to only blanket prohibition. Section 1.2 describes the ACMD’s duty as including providing Government with “advice on measures (whether or not involving alteration of the law) … (a) for restricting the availability of such drugs or supervising the arrangements for their supply…”. The Home Secretary also has extensive powers and discretion under the Act. Such powers were not given without reason. Parliament intended the Act to resolve major problems, not to maintain the status quo.

5.6 Parliament was clear that UN drug Conventions would not be incorporated. Home Secretary Reginald Maudling said “the Bill gives the Home Secretary powers to counter, without international consultation, any misuse that arises”.

Toward a Solution

6.1 The problem with any blanket prohibition of all drug use irrespective of harmfulness, is that it fails to respect the rational and fair common-sense distinctions between drug use that is beneficial, drug use that is reasonably safe, drug use that is unreasonably harmful to the user (a health issue) and drug use that is unreasonably harmful to others (a criminal issue).

6.2 These distinctions are respected by the Medicines Act 1968, an Act that we suggest provides a suitable example, and precedent, for reforming the Misuse of Drugs Act.

6.3 Based on extensive research, we believe that existing problems can be addressed by interpreting the Misuse of Drugs Act as it stands within the context of the Human Rights Act rather than UN drug Conventions and then implementing it by following existing government guidance on decision making, risk assessment and selection of regulatory options.


7.1 In R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Ex p Simms, Lord Hoffmann stated “Parliamentary sovereignty means that Parliament can, if it chooses, legislate contrary to fundamental principles of human rights. The Human Rights Act 1998 will not detract from this power. The constraints upon its exercise by Parliament are ultimately political, not legal. But the principle of legality means that Parliament must squarely confront what it is doing and accept the political cost. Fundamental rights cannot be overridden by general or ambiguous words. This is because there is too great a risk that the full implications of their unqualified meaning may have passed unnoticed in the democratic process”.

7.2 In a speech to the Royal Academy in 2002, Lord Woolf stated “The real test of the [Human Rights Act] arises when individuals or minorities attract the antagonism of the majority of the public. When the tabloids are in full cry. Then, the courts must, without regard for their own interests, make the difficult decisions that ensure that those under attack have the benefit of the rule of law. At the heart of the HRA, is the need to respect the dignity of every individual by ensuring he or she is not subject to discrimination. This is what Jackson J said about equality in 1948:

... equality is not merely abstract justice. The framers of the Constitution knew, and we should not forget today, that there is no more effective practical guaranty against arbitrary and unreasonable government than to require that the principles of law which officials would impose upon a minority must be imposed generally. Conversely, nothing opens the door to arbitrary action so effectively as to allow those officials to pick and choose only a few to whom they will apply legislation and thus to escape the political retribution that might be visited upon them if larger numbers were affected. Courts can take no better measure to assure that laws will be just than to require that laws be equal in operation”.

7.3 Martin Luther King echoed this view in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal”. … “Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application”.

7.4 We hope the Committee shares our dream—that this country can, one day, become a liberal democracy under the rule of law, despite the considerable obstacles.

7.5 Am I just a dreamer? Martin Luther King had a dream. John Lennon too. You may say I’m a dreamer—but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.

Prepared 8th December 2012