As reported in the Observer today: "The government was at loggerheads with its own advisers last night over its new drugs policy."
"An influential Home Office-backed committee raised serious doubts about the consultation process behind the 10-year strategy which will be unveiled in April. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) described the process as 'self-congratulatory and generally disappointing' and questioned the credibility of much of the evidence presented to government."The castigation appears in the Overall Comments (p3) to the ACMD's submission to Government on its strategy review. It is a withering attack in an otherwise fairly innocuous document.
There has been widespread condemnation from across drugs field of the strategy consultation p since it made its appearance in July this year. However, the significance of the Advisory Council reiterating this condemnation will not be lost on the Government.
This is a crucial time for the Advisory Council as it flexes its muscles in the upcoming review of cannabis reclassification in February next year. More importantly though the Council loses its incumbent Chair Sir Michael Rawlins next year and takes on six new members in the next few months (currently being appointed).
The Council's remit is to advise ministers on drug policy and law and specifically on the operation of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (MDA). The ACMD's position was undermined in 2006 when the Science and Technology Select Committee called into question the entire scientific evidence base for the drug classification system, in their report 'Making a Hash of it'. Initially the Council acted as if they had given it a clean bill of health, but do now appear to be taking at least some of the criticisms on board.
Transform has been calling on ACMD for years to evaluate both the classification system and the operation of the entire MDA and indeed prohibition itself. As ACMD suggests in its comments, an adequate definition of 'harm' is required in order to develop an effective drug strategy. At the least the ACMD needs to publicly state which harms are caused by drugs and which are caused or exacerbated by the enforcement of the MDA.
If the Council is to reassert itself as the much needed bastion of evidence and rationality within Government, it will need to step up a gear and proactively begin its own work of exposing the MDA to scientific evaluation (if necessary demanding the required resources and capacity from the Home office). If it fails to do this then agencies in the NGO sector - including Transform - will need to step in to do their job for them.