A drugs policy for the 21st century
We are pleased to announce the launch of our new project, Taking Drugs Seriously: ‘Legal Highs’, in partnership with the UK Drug Policy Commission. The project is being kindly supported by the A B Charitable Trust.
With the furore over mephedrone and ‘legal highs’, the time is right for a fundamental review of drugs policy and the system of controlling harmful substances. Together, Demos and UKDPC will review international approaches to controlling harmful substances and bring together experts from drug treatment, enforcement, regulation, medicine control, trading standards and the public to work through the unintended consequences of drugs policy frameworks.
The Academy of Medical Sciences, the Royal Society of Arts and the UK Drug Policy Commission have all argued over the past four years for a reappraisal of the drug classification system. Growing concern about the current system has been amplified by the government’s rejection of recommendations of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs over the past few years on cannabis and ecstasy, resulting last year in the sacking of its Chair and the resignation of more than a quarter of its members (most scientists).
The emergence of ‘legal highs’ such as mephedrone shows that the current system is completely inadequate to face the demands of the future. With legal highs, research chemists can manufacture drugs that allow them to continuously circumvent proscription. According to the Home Office, there are now over 600 compounds controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971. With legal highs we could now see this number increase drastically, placing a completely untenable burden on law enforcement officials and further squeezing the resources that can be devoted to drug treatment. There is already a new drug (MDAI) set to replace the now banned mephedrone.
What is needed now is a return to first principles. We must ask, what specifically is the objective of drugs policy? What levels of harm are acceptable, and what is the best way to control the use of harmful substances among young people?
Drugs policy is one of the most entrenched and polarised areas of policy. This project will seek to use systems-theory methodology to break through the perennial impasse and forge a new consensus on the objectives of drugs policy and how they can be best achieved.