Friday, 27 May 2011

The 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act: Happy 40th Birthday?

Levent Akbulut explores the impact the Misuse of Drugs Act has had on British society and touches on recent developments in drug policy reform.
As days pass through history, their meaning and relevance can become lost in time. Anniversaries and birthdays give us a chance to reflect on noted events and their impact on humankind. Today we reflect on the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act achieving Royal Assent and becoming law, this piece of legislation embodies the British role in the global drug war and marking its 40th birthday we have to ask - what have we done?

The Act has the noble aim of classifying drugs based on relative harm with the goal of protecting society by criminalising the possession, production and supply of certain drugs.
“A drug free world” has been touted as an achievable and desirable goal by a well meaning population who concerned about the advent of a of new psychoactive drugs into British life.
However, birthdays are usually a time of celebration, a time to remember the successes of the great and the good around us - the Misuse of Drugs Act has certainly had its mark on life in the United Kingdom and arguably around the world.
Those old enough to remember will recall when back in the sixties, harmful drugs like heroin, cocaine and amphetamines were available on prescription to a small number of addicts numbering no more than a couple of thousand. The number of heroin addicts in the UK has now increased by 2000% and has resulted in lost generations as well as an obscene increase in petty crime committed by these vulnerable individuals simply doing their best to avoid the horror of opioid withdrawal. One may say that these individuals inflicted it upon themselves, but it is worth considering that a lot of these people will have been the victims of childhood abuse or some kind of trauma earlier in life. We recognise alcohol addiction as a social problem, yet for some reason we put other drugs in a separate category. There is no more shocking example of how prohibition actually encourages the spread of harmful behaviour with drugs than what has happened with heroin in this country.
Then there has been the massive increase in criminalised individuals, for some people the recreational use of some drugs is nothing more than a youthful indiscretion - just like for say, David Cameron. But if you’re poor, from an ethnic minority and live in an inner city there is a much greater chance you will be stopped and searched then prosecuted if they find anything on you. There are hundreds of thousands of people prevented from entering many careers just because they got caught when young. While others make it to Downing Street or even the White House.
And then there’s the drugs trade. The impact it has on people living in communities where dealing happens and those where they are produced. The United Kingdom has the greatest demand for cocaine in all of Europe - yet no amount of pesticide being dropped on developing nations in Latin America has stopped its flow to this country.
Regular readers of this blog will have figured that we do not think our drug laws are working - only last week when the UK Drug Policy Consortium published a report showing how our current drugs legislation could not possibly keep up with the rise of the legal highs phenomena, the Home Office simply retorted that they felt our current system was working just fine. SSDP members who campaigned against the sacking of Professor David Nutt back in 2009 will remember how strongly we feel about evidence-based drug policy and how disinterested successive governments seems to be in the matter.
Next week leading individuals across the globe from former to current heads of State will be launching a new report from the Global Commission on Drugs that describes the global drug war as a failure and calls for a paradigm shift in global drug policy. If you feel as strongly as we do about supporting evidence-based approaches to drug policy and that our current laws have had their day, then join us outside the Home Office on Thursday the 2nd of June at 12PM for a birthday party marking what will hopefully be the beginning of the end of the global drug war.

Stay posted for more details!

Drug War Birthday Party
12PM, Thursday the 2nd of June, Home Office, Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF.


  1. Make it a Deathday party and I'll do my best to join you.

  2. Some excellent information Levent, thank you. As you know I actually resent the expression ‘War on Drugs’ and I think ‘Drug War’ is no better. You have pointed out the very human cost, but you dissipate the value of this by allowing the deceit that that the law is about regulating objects to go unchallenged, when of course it is our minds and bodies that are being controlled. The controls work partly through propaganda encapsulated in control memes.

    Personally I think the Misuse of Drugs Act is excellent - you omitted to say (and the UKDPC also seemingly don’t understand the potential of the law we have), that it is the misuse of this law that is the problem. It does allow the UK to give effect to the International Treaties and Conventions, but it's much better than that. WE DO NOT WANT A NEW LAW - WE WANT THIS ONE ADMINISTERRING PROPERLY

    Thinking this is best explained as a concern over the classification of drugs misses an opportunity to understand that the law regulates persons with respect to harmful drugs that cause social problems through their misuse. In fact the classification of the drug is perhaps the least important aspect of the control of drug users – it is the absence of the use of the drug USER regulatory apparatus of the Act that is significant, as well as the refusal to control persons causing harm through drug abuse with alcohol, tobacco etc. It’s more revealing to point out that these drug USERS are in a separate category, by being arbitrarily excluded from the (drug misuse neutral) law – these two points being the cause of just about all drug misuse problems.

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