Friday, August 17, 2007

Sentencing Guidelines Panel planning review and consultation on drug offences

The following correspondence has been forwarded to Transform from Dave Barlow, who represents Casey Hardison, currently in prison for 20 years for the manufacture of 7 grams of LSD. His case has been discussed in more detail elsewhere on this blog. As well as providing a useful commentary on the mis-classification of LSD within the current ABC system, Dave's letter to the Sentencing Guidelines Secretariat (querying Casey's 20 year sentence), prompted an interesting response.

It appears that the Sentencing Guidelines Panel are planning a (long overdue) review of 'issues relating to the sentencing of various offences arising from the supply, manufacture, importation or possession of prohibited drugs' to be undertaken 'over the course of the next year' and that this will 'involve the publication of a consultation paper to which anyone may respond'. (This may be public knowledge but is the first that I have heard of it).

This is good news, and it is hoped that, whilst not challenging the fundamental injustices of Prohibition, there may be some shift in the guidelines that see a non-violent, talented young man producing a few grams of LSD (for recreational use by consenting adults), imprisoned for longer than most terrorists, rapists and murderers.

1 August 2007

Dear Mr McCormac,

I am writing to you as Head of the Sentencing Guidelines Secretariat concerning the 20-year prison sentence imposed on the American chemist Mr Casey Hardison for the manufacture of 7 grams of LSD-25. Despite the fact that the length of sentence was double that recommended in the sentencing guidelines given in R. v. Hurley, Appeal against Sentence was dismissed at the Royal Courts of Justice on 25 May 2006. The background to the case and legal texts are available at .

LSD has a similar chemical structure to the psilocybin found in magic mushrooms and produces similar effects - the main difference is the duration of effects (4-5 hours for psilocybin, 8-10 hours for LSD). Both drugs are non-toxic and non-addictive. Yet they are both placed in Class A, the same legal category as heroin!

The government was advised in an independent report by the Police Foundation in March 2000 that LSD should be transferred from Class A to Class B (recommendation 8) . This advice was ignored.

In July 2005 the Government's Strategic Unit Drugs Report, which the Prime Minister refused to publish, was leaked . It contains a number of references to LSD:
Page 5: Dependent Users: LSD, 0.
Page 11: Least potential addictiveness of all drugs: LSD.
Page 12: Total cost (£/week): least expensive, LSD.
Page 15: Deaths per annum: LSD, 0.
Page 19: Damage to health and social functioning: LSD has the same rating as cannabis.
Page 33: "Users of heroin and/or crack cause high levels of every kind of harm".
Page 34: "In comparison, users of other drugs do not cause significant harms"
Cannabis, Ecstasy and LSD have the lowest harms rating.
Page 35: LSD users cause the least harm to self and the least harm to others.

In March 2007, Professor Nutt of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs published Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse in the Lancet (attached). In Figure 1 (P. 1050) each substance is given a mean score by independent experts. Both alcohol and tobacco are in the top 10 of harm causing substances while LSD is rated as 14th out of 20, three places lower than cannabis.
"Our findings raise questions about the validity of the current Misuse of Drugs Act classification, despite the fact that it is nominally based on an assessment of risk to users and society. The discrepancies between our findings and current classifications are especially striking in relation to psychedelic-type drugs."
I would be most grateful if you could raise this matter at the next meeting of the Sentencing Advisory Panel as I do not feel that a 20-year prison sentence is appropriate for a non-violent offender for manufacturing a non-toxic, non-addictive drug which bears a close similarity to ones found in nature.

Yours sincerely,
David Barlow

Dear Mr. Barlow,

Thank you very much for this e-mail and for the hard copy letter sent to the Chairman and members of the Sentencing Advisory Panel.

The Chairman of the Panel, Professor Andrew Ashworth, has asked me to reply on the Panel's behalf.

The Panel does not comment on the decisions in individual cases and so cannot respond to the issue that you raise in relation to this particular sentence.

However, it is likely that the Panel will be considering issues relating to the sentencing of various offences arising from the supply, manufacture, importation or possession of prohibited drugs over the course of the next year. This consideration will involve the publication of a consultation paper to which anyone may respond and any comments that you have will be gratefully received.

As with all papers issued by the Sentencing Advisory Panel or the Sentencing Guidelines Council, this consultation paper will appear on our website -

Yours sincerely,
Kevin McCormac
Head of Sentencing Guidelines Secretariat,

4th Floor,
8-10 Great George Street,
020 7084 8130

Transform briefing on drug classification


Anonymous said...

While I do completely agree with your post, I feel that you are being slightly misleading in saying 'just a few grams of LSD'. Just a 'few grams' of LSD is a bit like saying 'just a few grams' of uranium, so a terrorist should get off lightly compared to one who had 'tonnes' of potassium nitrate in his possession.

thesocialworker said...

The decisions of the government are seeming more criminal by the minute.

How do they justify ruining a persons life because they manufactured a drug less harmful than a Big Mac?

Steve Rolles said...

Its true that a few grams of LSD counts for many thousands of doses. But if you are producing it at all you cant really avoid producing massive dose amounts since such a tiny amount constitutes an active dose. The wider point that Casey was producing a recreational drug with a relatively low risk profile for consenting adults who wanted it should not be punishable with a life sentence in prison.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous makes a valid point: all too often pro-legalisation writers dismiss drugs are being innocuous, which is entirely misleading. Whilst for example it may be possible to demonstrate that alcohol or tobacco are more harmful than LSD, LSD is an awesomely powerful substance and it is the fact that the powers that be cannot handle the implications of chemicals like this, that means that Casey has to be ludicrously demonised and be sacrificed. Basically nothing has changed in terms of understanding of shamanistic practice or the need to control ideas since the middle-ages.

Unfortunately the legal profession who enforce these ignorant laws

Steve Rolles said...

I certainly dont suggest LSD or any drug innocuous. Just, in this blog, mis-classified. Its 'awesome' power depends on its dose. Unfortunately with LSD dose is hard to guage becvause of its micro-gram level potency. Mushrooms were a much preferable drug to in many respects - not least because they are shorter acting and far easier to dose responsibly.

To be honest, its not a fair comment to make about any one who holds a pro-legalisation position (with the exception, perhaps, of some cannabis evangelists). I have never heard anyone, least of all Casey or Dave claim LSD is harmless - it clearly isnt. As Transform have made clear repeatedly: we support effective legal regulation of drugs because they are dangerous, not safe.

Anonymous said...

to continue, the legal profession who enforce these ignorant laws cannot get their heads round these laws at all. Casey is saying that he too is like an cannabis evangelist, saying he has come out of the closet and believes that what he is doing is good. He is in total contrast to the victim model expected of him. He wouldn't accept LSD to be class B or even Class C in my view he MUST BE HEARED as he has been silenced by the review system.