A leaked document has unveiled that the UK government’s official drug advisers privately supported the idea of formally ending the criminalization of personal drug possession back in 2016. The Guardian has obtained a copy of the 27-page report that advocated for decriminalization. Despite initially ignoring the report, the Home Office later fought to keep it confidential following a freedom of information request.
The report, sent to the then home secretary by the former chair of the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), outlined several significant concerns associated with criminalizing drug use. The report highlighted that limited, consistent international evidence demonstrated the effectiveness of criminalization in reducing drug use. It also pointed out that the UK had no obligation, according to treaty obligations, to criminalize drug use and that criminalization negatively impacted the education and employment prospects of individuals.
The ACMD recommended that the Home Office conduct a review of the personal possession offense (MDA) and suggested that this review might lead to the repeal of the offense of possession for personal use.
This revelation about UK drug advisers comes amid mounting criticism of the government’s law and order approach to drug policy, with concerns raised by the Scottish government about the harm it causes to drug users. The UK government recently announced plans to imprison individuals for up to two years if they possess laughing gas, unless they use it for legitimate purposes in catering or medicine.
Prof. David Nutt
Prof. David Nutt, whom the government removed from his role as the chief drug adviser in 2009 because he asserted that alcohol is more dangerous than certain illegal drugs, commented on the matter. He pointed out that the suppression of these recommendations by the Home Office underscores their lack of interest in evidence-based drug policies that work.
The report aimed to align the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act with the 2016 Psychoactive Substances Act, which generally doesn’t criminalize possession. It also raised broader concerns among experts about UK drug policy, citing Portugal’s success in decriminalizing drugs and noting that drug use has remained stable in countries that have criminalized possession.
Steve Rolles, a senior policy analyst at Transform Drug Policy Foundation, emphasized that the committee felt compelled to discreetly call for a review, and had it been published earlier, it could have influenced legislation and public discourse, potentially expediting much-needed reforms and mitigating the adverse impacts of the UK’s ineffective drug laws.
Helen Clark, former prime minister of New Zealand and chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, called on the UK government to consider and act upon this advice, suggesting that it would be commendable if they did so.