Submitted by Dr C S J Fazey, University
1. The idea that there can be a single policy
is inappropriate. A policy that may be appropriate to one illegal
drug may or may not be appropriate to all illegal drugs. There
is a need to differentiate between illicit drugs from the outset,
and not to seek apply universal guidelines that may be appropriate
for only one of them. Cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin may
all need to be treated differently from the policymaking point
2. Based upon the Government's own figures
and those of reputable surveys, as well as on the number of drug-related
deaths, then the answer must be no. But this is not to say that
policy has had no effect. It can be argued strongly that the situation
would be very much worse were the policy not in place.
3. However, some aspects of policy need
to be implemented more effectively. For example, in-depth drug
education courses should be embedded in healthy lifestyles courses
that should then be examinable. There is much evidence of failure
in drug education courses and a lack of impact on the intended
audience. Short courses aimed at giving information about the
harmful effects of drug use/misuse may satisfy the needs of parents,
teachers and police, as with the DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education)
programme: but the evidence suggests that they promote only a
short-term increase in knowledge; in the long term, they have
little effect on the behaviour of young people. These programmes,
and many like them, are pronounced a success even before they
start, but their evaluation is, on the whole, methodologically
prohibitive because there are too many variables at work to isolate
the effects of one particular programme.
4. The first issue here is what is meant
by decriminalisation? The options are:
(a) complete legalisation;
(b) decriminalisation of some parts of the
trade, that is to say some aspects would not be liable to criminal
sanctionsbut which aspects and which, drugs? Is it their
cultivation, manufacture, trafficking , distribution or consumptionagain
for which drugs?
(c) cultivation, manufacturing, trafficking
and distribution to remain criminal offences, but possession not
subject to imprisonment.
(d) as (c) above, but possession up to a
specified amount (albeit an arbitrary amount deemed, say, an "average"
consumption over a certain short period) not subject to legal
5. There would be an immediate increase
in the consumption of illicit drugs that did not attract a legal
sanction. At present, the likelihood of being apprehended is by
far a greater deterrent than the potential punishment available.
Therefore, there might be a switch, say, between alcohol and previously
forbidden drugs, as well as an increase in their use. The use
of drugs such as ecstasy and cannabis might not increase if current
users perceive that their chances of being caught are low, so
the potential number of new users might be low. What would probably
happen is that there would be an initial rise in consumption due
to curiosity, but that the numbers would then fall back. The biggest
change might be in buying habits. People would buy in larger quantities
for cheapness because they no longer feared being arrested for
being in possession with intent to supply.
6. The question then arises as to whether
such an increase in consumption matters. Again, one can take a
different view for different drugs. Is an increase in cannabis
or ecstasy consumption a greater problem than the risks already
taken by young people? Death rates are often cited as a reason
for not making drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy more readily
available, but the statistics suggest that the risk of drug-related
death has been exaggerated. Although every drug-related and avoidable
death is a tragedy, the number of young people and children killed
each year in their own homes or in accidents far outweighs the
number of drug-related deaths.
7. The case of heroin is very different.
Greater availability would mean, paradoxically, fewer addicts
in the long term and certainly fewer deaths. This view is based
on my research going back to the mid 1960s in the first heroin
prescribing clinic in the UK, on the evaluation of drug clinics
in this country for the Government in the 1980s, and visits to,
and examinations of, various other treatment clinics around the
world during my time with the UNDCP. The big surge in the availability
of illicit heroin in the UK coincided with the operation of the
1967 Act. A few over-prescribing GPs were dealt with by denying
the right of any GP to prescribe heroin to heroin addicts unless
licensed by the Home Office. Initially, it was policy to issue
licences only to psychiatrists working in a hospital setting,
not because it was in the best interests of the patient, but to
control the GPs. Over time a group of psychiatrists based in London
decided to change existing policy and practice, substituting oral
methadone for injectable heroin. Those who created this policy
then imposed it on the rest of the medical profession by drawing
up guidelines of best practice, based on their own views. Most
heroin addicts are not mentally ill and do not need a psychiatrist,
but sympathetic treatment and injectable heroin. The prescription
of heroin is not a medical issue but a political one, as the Swiss
and Dutch governments will testify.
8. There are about 120 doctors with a license
to prescribe heroin for addicts, but not all do so. Even those
who do, do so only for a small number of patients. The main reason
why more do not prescribe heroin is that they fear the draconian
measures that others have suffered after doing so.
9. Research findings, including my own,
show that the amount of crime would be reduced. Obviously, if
the possession of certain drugs for personal use were ignored,
tolerated or legalised, there will be fewer arrests for possession.
But if heroin were to be prescribed on a much wider basis, then
people would not need to commit crimes to get enough money to
buy the drug illegally. There is much evidence from many parts
of the world that heroin addiction is related to a substantial
amount of crime.