Moving Towards a Science-Based Drug Policy
The government is responsible for formulating a drug policy that protects both the health of its citizen's and its delicate societal fabric from harm. The policy is enforced by the police and upheld by the courts via custodial sentences and rehabilitation. It is in the best interests of the government to therefore base the policy on scientific or sociological evidence to ensure consistency and transparency which in turn would be represented by an improvement in the health and well-being of the people.
When scientists and medical experts report that new evidence no longer supports the government's position, it is expected that the policy should be changed to reflect the facts. Everyone's a winner; the government can use science to formulate their policies accordingly and have irrefutable statistical and medical evidence to back-up their decisions, whilst citizens are protected from harm and addiction. Representative and democratic. Unfortunately, as with many decisions regarding politically sensitive topics, ideology and the ability to secure votes often trumps the science and this leads to inconsistencies within the policy making it more difficult to defend and police as well as ripe for judicial review and further scientific scrutiny.
Let us postulate that two new drugs have been formulated and they need to be assessed by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) to decide whether the evidence suggests that they should be legal for use or criminalized. Drug A is a powerful anesthetic and depressant with damaging side effects and high toxicity, a strong potential for addiction and overdose, as well as a verifiable record of violent, risk taking and socially damaging behavior. Drug C is a mild hallucinogenic and depressant with no recorded instances of overdose and very low toxicity, little or no propensity towards physical addiction or violent behavior, as well as several scientifically validated medicinal uses. It seems like a straightforward decision. These two drugs do in fact exist and their appropriate legislative positions are opposite to what may be expected.
Drug A is alcohol; legal, popular and often cited as a corner-stone of UK culture, whilst drug C is cannabis; illegal but still popular despite the possibility of a custodial sentence or rehabilitation program for its possession and cultivation.Continued on the next page