Previously I wrote a post calling into question the so-called evidence based drug policy of the UK. I showed how mainstream media has reported on this before to no avail, politicians have made empty promises to re-examine policy in the past and pointed to the opinions of Professor David Nutt, former chief drug policy advisor and currently a chair of the neuropsychopharmacology department at London’s Imperial College, who believes that contemporary policy goes against the aims and goals it is supposed to support. This week, in a new open letter to the government, Nutt and many other esteemed intellectuals from universities around the country, the latest proposed policy, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, is criticised in a similar way.
In the letter, which can be read here, a simple explanation of the backwardness of current policy is given. Basically, the attempt by governments to regulate any substance that has a demand effectively creates an illicit market for the substance. This illicit market, which is controlled by organised criminals, is obviously impossible to regulate and, as the market grows, it sucks money from legitimate economies leading to a decrease in possible tax revenues. Additionally, the black market produces an increasing amount of users labelled as criminals rather than sufferers of health problems which can prevent users coming accessing health services due to fear of arrest and stigma. Another problem, much less visible in the UK, is the violence created by the competition between criminal organisations in this market- the obvious example of this are the ongoing blood-soaked drug wars of Mexico.
In addition to criminal elements, the letter points out that this legislation further impedes scientific progress; the medical and psychiatric sciences have already had years of potential discovery blocked by current legislation. Moreover, the proposed blanket ban of psychoactive drugs is so vague that it would apply to many harmless items that the apparently scientifically illiterate advisors that drafted this bill didn’t think about.
The letter is not simply a list of complaints however, and the authors go on to recommend the regulation rather than illegalisation of drugs. I share their opinion that we should strive to reduce harm and reduce demand through wide-spread informative campaigns, reforming education about drugs (“talk to frank” is full of scare-mongering misinformation), social policies that reduce stigmatisation of users and encourage a more empathetic sentiment to users, which tend to be the most vulnerable of society, and policy reform to remove barriers to scientific progress.
Editor’s Note: This post will also be uploaded to TheKnowledge.