Submitted by Release
Release was established in 1967 to help those
who had been arrested for alleged drug offences. Our 24-hour helpline
was the worlds first ever national drugs helpline and the only
service that combined the provision of both legal and welfare
advice to drug users.
Release's services today includes the provision
of free and accessible legal advice on drug-related issues, specialist
policy and practice advice on key issues, the provision of training,
conferences and consultancy services to other professionals who
work in the field and outreach work in clubs and festivals across
the UK. Our commitment to the civil and human rights of our clients
remains at the forefront of our work.
Release has been documenting the impact of Britain's
drug laws for over 34 years. Since 1967 we have assisted well
over 100,000 callers to our helpline requiring advice, information
and representation on their legal rights and the legal process.
This experience has informed many of the publications we have
produced illustrating the harms caused by our drug laws. This
includes The Release Report on Drug Offenders and the Law1, The
Truckers Bible2, Stop & Search3, Trouble with the Law4, The
Release White Paper5, Drugs & the Law6 and Room for Drugs7.
We have over the years borne witness to some
of the worst excesses of the drug laws and law enforcement. This
includes the 535 arrests at the 1985 Stonehenge Festival8, the
imprisonment of two dedicated hostel workers for not doing enough
to rid their homeless day centre of drug dealers, and the regular
prosecution of patients with a range of conditions for using cannabis
for relief. Above all it is the day-to-day contact with otherwise
law abiding citizens who have been criminalised by a law that
is desperately in need of reform on which we base this submission.
To many people familiar with this issue it is
obvious that neither the use nor the misuse of drugs should be
dealt with by the police and the criminal justice process. This
does not imply that drugs should not be controlled and properly
regulated within the law, quite the contrary. We therefore propose
the following key principles that should guide a new system consistent
with our expectations of a modern civil society. These principles
The starting point should be the principle
that in a modern democratic society citizens should have the right
to take decisions over their own lives providing they do not harm
Protecting the vulnerable
The above proposition must of course
be tempered by the need to protect young and vulnerable members
of society. Consequently there should be constraints on advertising,
promotion, sale to young people etc.
Effective regulation on the content,
strength, labelling, quality and other features would need to
be developed in the same way that presently applies for alcohol,
tobacco, over the counter medicines and many other products.
It must also be acknowledged that whatever
system of regulation exists there will always be some who will
suffer to some degree. The realistic goal is to minimise risk
and suffering. As is the case in other aspects of health promotion,
this is best achieved through good information, education, treatment
and other social responses that operate within the law as opposed
to those that drive both the victim and the problem underground.
A PROGRAMME OF
As part of a step-by-step process of reform
Release proposes that the UK Government initiate the following
Although the three UN drug control conventions
allow for more flexibility and interpretation than is often appreciated,
a review of these conventions is long overdue. We propose that
the UK Government work with other governments and international
bodies in reforming these conventions to permit new policy paradigms
including legal supply already long overdue. Such a review should
also acknowledge the problems experienced by producer countries,
and develop genuine non-militaristic programmes of economic and
social support with the involvement of the indigenous populations.
We believe that the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act
should be replaced with new legislation that more accurately reflects
the principles set out above and the changing public mood towards
a more informed and realistic regulatory system. Amongst the specific
changes that we advocate are:
The illegal status of cannabis is the single
most unjust and inappropriate element of the current legislation.
Its outlaw status has now criminalised some one million people
since the enactment of the Misuse of Drugs Act and is simply not
justified on the basis of any rationale analyses of its relative
harm to individuals or society10. We propose:
The use and cultivation of cannabis
for personal use be no longer a criminal offence.
That the appropriate measures be
taken for cannabis to be regulated and controlled within an effective
system of licensing and control. Any attempt to sanction the use
of cannabis without providing a legal mode of supply would inevitably
be a lucrative gift to organised crime.
That the use, supply, cultivation
and prescribing of cannabis for medicinal and therapeutic purposes
be made lawful without delay.
We are convinced from the testimonies of the
thousands of heroin users and their families and friends that
the present legal and professional restrictions on the prescribing
of heroin is misguided and significantly contributes to increased
drug-related crime. We therefore propose that new clinical guidelines
and legal reforms are enacted to allow for heroin prescribing
to be significantly extended and its impact monitored.
We support innovative harm reduction initiatives
such as the prescribing of heroin cigarettes as a way of weaning
clients off intravenous opiate use as well as the development
of safe "injecting rooms" to reduce risks to injecting
drug users within a properly monitored and evaluated framework.
Ongoing international research should also be used to inform the
development of UK drugs policy.
LSD, COCAINE AND
The present tough penalties on the use of ecstasy,
LSD and cocaine are inappropriate and counter-productive and should
be reduced. We also believe that the use of coca leaf should attract
lesser penalties than cocaine and that preparations of peyote
mushrooms growing wild in the UK should no longer be illegal.
At present mushrooms can be legally collected and ingested in
the wild but any attempt to dry them is illegal.
8 OF THE
The important implications of this section of
the MDA, which have been compounded by proposed new legislative
changes to it, is an issue in which we have gained considerable
insight and expertise in recent years. With this in mind and in
view of the wide-ranging concerns about this matter we have set
out our position and proposals in some detail separately.
The "social supply" of drugs ie the
sharing of drugs between friends on a non-profit basis should
be distinguished from supply for profit and not be subject to
any sanctions over and above that which applies to possession.
We believe that in the long term the use and
supply of all drugs be controlled and regulated within the law,
using different and appropriate supply models for different drugs.
This is the only way to assure effective drugs education and harm
minimisation across the board and also the only way to eliminate
the involvement of criminal gangs and terrorist networks in the
supply of drugs.
Sphere Books, Newgate Press London.
2 1974. A guide to international drug laws for
3 1977. Stop & Search a report into Police
Powers under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Release.
4 1979. Awarded the Cobden Trust annual award
for civil rights work. Release.
5 1992. The Release White Paper on Reform of
the Drug Laws. Release Publications Ltd.
6 1994. Release Publications Ltd.
7 1999. Release Publication Ltd.
8 Of which there was not a single conviction.
9 This is of course a paraphrase of the classic
JS Mill quote from "On Liberty". It is also consistent
with Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights(the
right to liberty).
10 Drugs, dilemmas, choices and the law. Royal
College of Psychiatrists and Royal College of Physicians 2000.