The following PQ was tabled by Paul Flynn MP at the suggestion of Transform:
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what research her Department has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated on the effect of reclassifying drugs on their production, supply and use.
A huge political and media ballyhoo is made about drug classification, especially when a previously unclassified drug is classified (e.g. GHB, Ketamine and fresh magic mushrooms recently) or has its classification increased (Methamphetamine this year) or decreased (Cannabis in 2004).
Obviously, looking beyond all the rhetoric and political posturing, it would be useful to know whether these changes have any meaningful impact on on key indicators of policy success/failure (as was highlighted in some detail last years Science and Technology Select Committee Inquiry into the Classification System). Unfortunately we don't know, and we have no systematic review or useful published information provided by the Home Office that might arguably constitute a meaningful 'evaluation' of these much-hyped policy shifts.
So it seemed like a reasonable and simple question.
The following answer from the Minister responsible, Vernon Coaker, appeared on Hansard on October the 25th:
The Home Department undertakes and evaluates several surveys in order to monitor levels of illegal drug production, supply and use. These are not predicated on the ABC classification system but where they are drug specific, any changes are closely monitored following a drug's reclassification. Relevant published research is also routinely considered.
The record is available here on the excellent TheWorkForYou website (what Hansard online should look like). TheyWorkForYou also offer an opportunity to comment on all statements form parliamentarians, and vote on whether Parliamentary Answers do, in your view, answer the questions posed (get voting!)
In this case it's a typically uninformative and evasive answer from Coaker, in line with most of the pronouncements from the Home Office when they are challenged to produce evidence to support their drug policy decisions (See, for example: Drugs minister gives a masterclass in drug policy spin and evasion and Classification and Deterrence - where's the evidence? )
There is a useful online response to Coaker's non-answer contributed to TheyWorkForYou by Shan Morgain, which I reproduce below with thanks:
"An evasive answer.
The question was 'what research her Department has (a) commissioned and (b) evaluated.'
In reply we are told that the Department undertakes and evaluates 'several surveys.' No specific names of or links to surveys are given, and the comment is a general statement on normal practice, which does not state whether any surveys have actually been done on this issue. So all we are given is a vague statement that work is being done; but for some reason we are not to be told what it is.
We are then told 'where they are drug specific, any changes are closely monitored following a drug's reclassification.' Again this is just a vague statement that monitoring is done, as a general rule. Nothing is said on whether monitoring is actually taking place, who is doing it, how, and when the results are due.
The lack of information given here is a matter of grave concern in response to an MP's enquiry. Transparency is nonexistent here; Vernon Croaker is wasting Parliamentary time and resources on empty words.
Both MP and the public that he and Croaker serve, are being treated with paternalistic condescension, as if we are children not yet mature enough to be allowed a clear answer to an adult question.
Can we please have an informative answer to the question giving specifics on what research is being undertaken into the effects of changing drugs' classification? An honest answer would give the names of those in charge of the research, their sampling methods, and the date results will be available."
Transform briefing on drug classification
Blog entry on the recent Lancet paper on drug classification
Note: I have an article on the classification system appearing in the next issue of Drugs and Alcohol Today