Clarke enquiry into drugs classification

A statement by Charles Clarke that the UK government used an "evidence-based drugs policy" prompted 2 official enquiries.

  1. The first was an internal enquiry, by the Home Office. The results were promised about 5 months ago: 'Review of the Drugs Classification System'
  2. The second was by Parliament's Science and Technology Committee. They commissioned a report from RAND: 'The Evidence Base for the Classification of Drugs (PDF)' - by: Ruth Levitt, Edward Nason, Michael Hallsworth (Rand Europe, 2006)

Their enquiry is now complete and published in full: Drug classification: making a hash of it?" - The Science and Technology Committee report on its investigation into evidence and how government uses it in formulating drugs policy. In particular, how the government use evidence as the basis for the drugs classification system:
Full report (PDF) | Mirrored at the BBC (PDF) | Report findings only (HTML)

Scale of Drug Harms

The ACMD have responded to the parliamentary committee's criticism's of the drug classification system by producing an alternative harm scale to contrast against the A, B, C classification system:

What's wrong with this new scale of harm for illegal drugs?

This alternative scale of harm suffers from some of the problems that the old A,B,C classification system suffered from:

Online criticisms:

Why does the government want a new drug classification system?

The A, B, C classification system had only ever been there to "send out a message" that drug use is harmful. The government have never had an evidence-based drugs policy. Previous policy seemed panic-driven; set by the 3 UN anti-drug treaties of 1961, 1971 and 1988; or by random (and organized) scares in partnership with various media and interested parties. The government itself including the ACMD, subscribed to this same philosophy of sending out messages until recently. We still find it today:
Scotland's leading authority on narcotics abuse, Professor Neil McKeganey, told The Scotsman yesterday the move could lead to "much wider" use of the drug among young people. Police said it would send out the wrong message.
see: Ecstasy deaths warning as ministers poised to review drug classification system

So what? The A, B, C-system has served them for 35 years. Why change it? After all it's as easy as A, B, C! There are several problems with it.

Things are not quite as new as they seem. The A,B,C classification system is well past its sell-by-date. It's rejected by the mainstream parties. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society have called for proper risk assessments. Prohibitionists such as Drugscope, the Police Foundation, and the ACMD are either disputing specific drug classifications or even the entire system. Even the Home Office regard the A,B,C scale of harm as practically useless - see: Measuring the harm from illegal drugs using the Drug Harm Index.

Rather than looking upon the Nutt scale as a bright new dawn, drugs reformers are advised to view it suspiciously as the first brick in a new, more sophisticated, wall of prohibition.