On October 13th 2011, the UK Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) recommended decriminalization of drugs (including all illicit drugs) to reduce legal costs and enter the offenders into a program of prevention and education instead of court proceedings and prison.
The role of the ACMD is to advise the government on its policy on drugs and addictive substances.
The committee is composed of experts whose purpose is to give scientific advice on drug abuse and allow the government to make informed decisions, without having specialist knowledge in this particular area. Unfortunately seems that the opinion of this council is considered by the Home Office only when it suits their policies (in 2009 the Board Director of the ACMD, Professor David Nutt, was sacked for his criticism of the Government’s policy on cannabis).
The response of the Home Secretary, Theresa May, was swift and dismissive. The government will not give a “green light” to use drugs because they “destroy lives and cause unspeakable misery.”
Aside from the fact that the ACMD never suggested giving a green light to use drugs, quite the opposite, the second part of the remark is surprising.
Cannabis is many times less dangerous than alcohol
Alcohol consumption in the UK is 13,4 litres of pure alcohol per person per year. 13,4L of pure alcohol is approximately 670 pints, per person every year. Knowing that this is an average, this indicates that some of the population do not drink at all, and others drink excessively, abusing themselves and putting their lives and families at risk. The government condones the legal status of alcohol, despite the fact that alcohol destroys lives and causes unspeakable misery with far more effectiveness than (for example) cannabis.
If the arguments of the minister are sincere, the problem of alcohol consumption should also be addressed as it is in many ways comparable to an illegal class A or B drug: it is addictive, toxic enough to kill in high doses, and social use ranges from occasional and casual to excessive abuse. Yet the government trusts people to regulate their own behaviour regarding alcohol, and the populace would be for the most part outraged if this right was taken away from them.
The scientific argument for the decriminalization of all illicit drugs is that such an action would serve the population by reducing the risks of use, by cutting exorbitant spending and often unnecessary legal costs to the taxpayers, and allowing the police and judges to focus on the most serious crimes.
If alcohol is not a concern for the British Government, there is no reason to refute an expert opinion that suggests applying the same principles to other substances which are not necessarily more dangerous. To sell alcohol in a supermarket is not a green light for alcoholism, so why treat other drugs differently?