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UK: Déja vu! "Those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (George Santayana)

Don Barnard


Saturday 20 Jul 2013

I believe this is an opportune time to look back at the political debate leading up to the passing of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act and through to today. I will not go into the fine details but as the old saying goes for those new round here I would like to briefly fill in a little of the background.

The first Act for the control of illicit drugs was the ‘Dangerous Drugs Act 1920’ followed by the Dangerous Drugs Act 1923, Dangerous Drugs Amendment Act 1923, Dangerous Drugs Act 1925, Dangerous Drugs Act 1930, Dangerous Drugs Act 1932 and the Dangerous Drugs Act 1951. The primary purpose of these Acts was to enable the UK government to ratify various updates to the UN international convention for the control of illicit drugs.

1964 Government introduced the Dangerous Drugs Bill [HL Deb vol 257 cc11-9]

“The purpose of this Bill was to:

a) make amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1951; to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the United Nations 1961 Single Convention”

b) Re-named Indian hemp "cannabis"

c) Make it an offence to permit premises to be used for smoking cannabis and an offence intentionally to cultivate the cannabis plant.

April, 1967 Home Secretary Roy Jenkins set up the Sub-Committee on Hallucinogens

Monday 24th July '67 a advertisement sponsored by ? SOMA claiming the law against cannabis is immoral in principle and unworkable in practice appeared in the Times

July 28th, 1967 the advertisement was the subject of an Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons on Soft Drugs. (*Note this debate was mainly about cannabis

Potent quote Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West):

“[..] I urge the Minister of State to press ahead with the inquiry to convince the public one way or the other of the truth about the drug and to make funds available for widespread research. We are at the turning of the ways on this issue. I want to play it down rather than to play it up, and I do not think that a debate of this kind is necessarily any good, but debates of this kind must take place. I recognise that the Government have great international difficulties in the matter and that we have signed conventions, but it is no longer good enough to let the problem drift. We require urgent public action ,and action which will convince young people. Only if we do all these things shall we avoid a social problem which will become far worse than it is today”

1 November 1968 "Wootton Report" published

The "Wootton Report" gave cannabis something close to a clean bill of health. "The long term consumption of cannabis in moderate doses has no harmful effects” On law reform the principal recommendation, was a modest proposal: "Possession of a small amount should not normally be punished by imprisonment."

27 January 1969 the House of Commons, debated "Wootton Report"

29 October 1969 Home Secretary Mr. James Callaghan announcing he was to introduce new legislation to replace the present rigid and ramshackle collection of Drugs Acts by a single comprehensive Measure

25 March 1970 James Callaghan introduced Class A, B or C to categories drugs in his Misuse of Drugs Bill. The basic principle’ being; ‘whether a drug has or is capable of having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem’

There was no scientific reasoning behind the three-tier classification. James. Callahan simply took the drugs controlled by the 1964 and 1965 Acts andput them Class A B or C to provide for a smooth transition to the new system of control.

Potent quote:

“I want now to make a few comments about Clause 2 and Schedule 2. These establish a three-tier classification of drugs for the purposes of the penalties provided by Clause 25 and Schedule 4. The object here is to make, so far as possible, a more sensible differentiation between drugs. It will divide them according to their accepted dangers and harmfulness in the light of current knowledge and it will provide for changes to be made in classificationin the light of new scientific knowledge”.

Schedule 2 has been drawn up on the basis if the lists of drugs controlledby the 1965 and 1964 Acts in order, and no more than this, to provide for a smooth transition to the new system of control.

“We have taken those lists of drugs and attempted to put them into the Bill in the order in which we think they should be classified of harmfulness and danger. This classification can be changed if the Bill has parliamentary support, as I trust and believe it will”.

Callahan also created 3 new cannabis related offence

(a) Being in any way concerned in unlawful supply or production of Cannabis

(b) For occupiers or persons concerned in management of premises knowingly to permit the unlawful production or supply to take place on theirpremises

(c) Possession with intent unlawfully to supply

This Bill fell as result of the election.

July 16 1970. Mr. Reginald Maudling Conservative Home Secretary reproduced James Callaghan's Bill (with minor amendments)

Potent quote

“[..] there remains a certain area of doubt for those who both believe in individual freedom and that the spreading use of drugs is dangerous to a high degree to individuals and to society as a whole. Freedom is in issue. It is deplorable to see people drinking themselves into cirrhosis or smoking themselves into lung cancer, but nobody proposes that either activity should be prohibited by law. There is an ethical consideration here, and it is relevant to the problem of cannabis”

The Misuse of Drugs Act received the Royal Assenton 1st July 1973.

*Note: 12 October 1973 The Times quoted Lord Chancellor, Hailsham instructions magistrates:

‘Set aside your prejudice, if you have one, and reserve the sentence of imprisonment for suitably flagrant cases of large-scale trafficking’

24 June 1977 Sir Robert Bradlaw,(Chairman, Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (the successor to the Advisory Committee) wrote to the Home Secretary setting out the Councils advice on the ’ Classification of controlled drugs and of penalties under schedules 2 and 4 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

15 December 1978 Sir Robert Bradlaw wrote to Mr. Merlyn Rees setting outACMD recommendations on the ‘Classification of controlled drugs and of penalties under schedules 2 and 4 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, among other things the Council recommended Cannabis should be transferred to Class C

November 5th, 1981, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs in a follow up report ‘The Effects of Cannabis Use’ to Home Secretary, Leon Britain (published in June 1982) repeated the proposal of previous reports cannabis should be transferred to Class C.

The Thatcher government rejected this. However they moved in the direction of decriminalisation; permitted Chief Constables to use cautioning, and advised Judges and Magistrates not send people to prison for minor cannabis possession offences. By the beginning of the 1990s, the majority of minor cases were dealt with by means of the caution.

24th of July 1992 the 25 anniversary of SOMA’ advert Release Sponsored a repeat Advertisement in The Times

The Times leading article “JUST SAY NOW” said:

“Cannabis smoking is a common feature of British life. The number of people estimated to have used cannabis in this country is now generally recognised to be in excess of 5 million. More people smoke cannabis than go to football matches, visit art galleries or go to church on Sunday. The people who use it are from all walks of life, all age groups, all social classes and all sections of the community.They do not fit any conventional stereotype - in fact the only thing they have in common is that they are all breaking the law. By participating in a recreational activity for which there is still no conclusive evidence to demonstrate that it causes any significant harm, they are branded criminal. The only time people who use cannabis should be subject to criminal law is when their drug use causes harm to others.

On the same day Tthe Times also ran an editorial – Entitled: “OVERDUE FOR REPEAL”

In 1993 John Major recognizing the UK drug strategy was not working asked Tony Newton MP for Braintree Essex. (Lord Newton deceased) to co-ordinate the development of a new strategy to tackle it a strategy for all (10) government departments working together across government.

9 September 1994. Prime Minister John Major In his speech to the Conservative Party conference had this to say about the “Tackling Drugs Together”, Strategy:

: "...Let me make one thing clear at the outset. There will be no question of legalising any drug. I know some people make a case for legalising some soft drugs but frankly I don't agree with it. I believe there is too great a risk that experimentation with soft drugs is the first step towards dependency on hard drugs. There will be a new emphasis on education and prevention designed to reduce the acceptability and availability of drugs to young people and increase the safety of every community from drug-related crime.

We will be stepping up the campaign against drugs in schools. Schools must be havens of learning and opportunity - not the place where children get their first introduction to crime. So we will be putting more money into guidance on drug prevention to help make sure that every child understands the dangers ofdrug use. And we are asking our independent school inspectors to do more to spread the lessons of how to stop drug abuse in schools.

At the same time tougher enforcement action will be taken on thes treets...We want police forces everywhere to put the fight against drugs on their list for priority action. The public need to know that their police force will be giving very high priority to the nation-wide war on drugs.

There will also be a major blitz on drugs in prisons. I want people tocome out of prison reformed, not sucked into a sub-culture of drugs. We must choke off the supply of drugs to prisons. So there will be improved perimeter patrolling. More thorough searching of inmates - and better supervision of domestic visits, the main source of drugs entering prisons. New powers in the Criminal Justice Bill will allow compulsory drugs testing of inmates.

Another component of the strategy will be that the treatment of drug addicts will be improved, with better access to drug services across the country. And special attention will be paid to the needs of young people and their families. Few things are more tragic than the spectacle of young babies born with an addiction to drugs.

Finally, we have agreed to renew funding for the Government's Drugs Prevention Initiative...The teams will now expand their areas of operation increasing coverage from six million to 16 million people...

All in all the initiative will be introducing is the most comprehensive strategy to tackle the drugs problem this country has seen. But that strategy will be the start, not the finish. The battle against drugs is one we cannot afford to lose. "

October, 1994 Mr. Newton published his consultation documents entitled “Tackling Drugs Together”

01 December 1994 Baroness Cumberlege (The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Health asked the House Lords takes note of the Government's Green Paper, Tackling Drugs Together said:

“The Green Paper is called Tackling DrugsTogether because we recognise that a co-ordinated approach is vital at both national and local level. At national level the Home Office, the Department of Health,the Department for Education and H.M. Customs and Excise all have key roles toplay. But the problems cannot be tackled by central government alone. At the local level teachers, the police, health professionals, parents and careers, social services, the probation service, the prison service, voluntary agencies and many others need to work together to maximise our efforts in dealing with this tragic problem that still claims too many victims through experimentation, dependency and crime. (House of Lords debate: Drug Misuse: Health Risks 1 December 1994 vol 559 cc705-72

10 May 1995 Tony Newton introduced Drugs (White Paper) 'Tackling Drugs together’

The three major objectives set out in the white paper were:

Reduce drug-related crime, ensure that the law is effectively enforced against drug suppliers and traffickers reduce the public's fear of drug-related crime and to reduce the level of drug misuse in prisons.

Discourage the taking of drugs by young people to develop skills to refuse drugs by raising the awareness of school staff, governors and parents regarding the issues associated with drug misuse to ensure schools offer effective drugs education - providing facts, stating risks, and provide services for advice, treatment, rehabilitation and after-care for young people at risk or dependant on drugs.

Protect communities from the health risks and other damage associated with drug misuse, including; discouraging drug-misuse and help those already misusing to stop, ensure access to services for advice, counseling, treatment, rehabilitation and after-care services for individuals, and to ensure their families have access to advice, counseling and support services.

9 June 1995 (full day's debate) Drugs (White Paper) 'Tackling Drugs Together'

21 June 1996 annual review the 'Tackling Drugs Together’ strategy

Friday 11 October 1996 Extracts from speech by Anthony Newton Tackling Drugs Together’ strategy to the Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth

"Let me begin by saying how much I welcome the fact that the problem of drug misuse emerged so strongly in the ballot, bringing about the discussion we are to have this afternoon. For there is no doubt that this is among the most serious social problems facing not only Britain but countries right across the world. In placing it on the agenda, the Conference has shown in this, as in other ways, that it reflects and responds to the concerns of the country.

I give some facts by way of illustration. The total street value of seizures of illegal drugs last year was over £450 million, 5 per cent up on the previous year; the number of drug offenders was 87,000 25 per cent up; the number addicts was 13,500, an increase of 17%. And, perhaps most worrying of all, over 4 out of every 10 of our 16-29 year olds say that they have taken an illegal drug. It is an important balancing factor that less than 20 per cent had taken one in the previous month.

This Government does not accept that the tide of drugs into this country is unstoppable. Concerted action by the police, customs and other law enforcement agencies has played a vital role in restricting the flow of drugs - the relatively high prices of heroin, crack and other drugs is testament to that. But it is precisely because of those high prices that the UK market is so attractive to the dealer.

As Michael Howard made very clear on Tuesday, that is why it is not only right, but essential that we should be tough in dealing with those dealers, because we all know the damage that all this can do. So-called recreational drugs can undermine health, employment prospects and even the simple ability to form human relationships. The problem of addiction and drug-dealing can harm whole communities. And "experimenting" with drugs can literally destroy the future of some of the best and brightest of our young people.

The death of Leah Betts, after taking an ecstasy tablet, less than a year ago - in a hospital in my own constituency - was a particularly tragic reminde rof the destructive power of that singularly inappropriately named drug,"ecstasy". I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute the courage and the vision of Leah's parents - Janet and Paul Betts - who have the lessons of their tragedy out to the schools, the youth clubs and the conference venues across Britain to educate and inform parents and young people about the dangers of drug misuse.

And drugs don't just damage or even destroy individual lives. Through their manifestation in the crime which so often goes with drugs they affect us all. No-one can be sure exactly how much crime is drug-related. But it is certainly a very significant amount. Let me give you just one more figure. One recent study has found that 664 drug misusers, before treatment, had committed no less than 70,000 crimes between them in a period of three months.

Some three years ago, recognising the scale and importance of these problems, the Prime Minister asked me to co-ordinate the development of a new strategy to tackle it a strategy not for one department but for departments working together across government. That strategy was launched last year in the White Paper "Tackling Drugs Together". It is now being carried forward throughout the country , and is seen by many in other countries as a model. Andit is about those efforts that I want mainly to speak in opening our discussion today.

Let me make two things about it very clear, so that there shall be no misunderstanding.

First, one thing it does not contain, and will not contain, is any plan to legalise any currently illegal drug. Against the background of the harm, misery and crime they cause, that is not a path down which we should or will go.

I read that European Commissioner Bonino has recently called for measures of legalisation. I believe that would be a charter for drug smugglers and dealers across Europe. The Government's answer is quite clear: we will not legalise any currently illegal drug. And we shall not be alone in that view.

Secondly, one thing our strategy does contain and will continue to contain is continued vigorous enforcement of the law and of the effort to curtail the supply of drugs, whether manufactured here in Britain or smuggled in from abroad.

Michael Howard set out our position very clearly in his speech on Tuesday, and told you of the policies with which we shall continue to re-inforce those efforts. As he said we must send strong, clear messages to children in the home and at school. We must do all we can to stop drugs getting into our children's hands. Action at the ports. Action on the streets. Action in the clubs.

That is why the Government is proposing that local authorities would be able not to renew or to revoke a licence even if the licensee had not been convicted of operating in breach of his conditions.

The Government has also therefore proposed that anyone aged 18 or over who is convicted of dealing in hard drugs and who has two or more previous convictions for similar offences should receive an automatic minimum sentence of 7 years in prison - save in genuinely exceptional circumstances. Dealers in hard drugs will then know that if they continue to offend they will automatically go to prison for a very long time. The mandatory minimum sentenceis of course just a minimum. The court will retain the discretion to impose a higher sentence in appropriate cases.

And in addition to those measures at home, we have this year appointed a new International Drugs Co-ordinator, to strengthen and enhance still further our contribution to the essential international effort against the drugs trade. I myself, in visits this year to the United States and several countries in Latin America, underlined to their governments the importance we attach to the co-operation which is needed if we are to defeat a threat which faces all of us and which none of us can defeat on our own.

International co-operation is often the key to getting information which ultimately leads to confiscation. Such co-operation has led to seizures and confiscation of individual amounts as high as £15 million from a single cannabis trafficker.

But alongside this work against the supply of drugs, it is no less important that we work to reduce the demand - to get those who are already on drugs offt hem, and - in the words of Tackling Drugs Together - to reduce the acceptability of drugs to young people. To change attitudes. If you like, to change the culture.

The strategy sets out three main aims: to make communities safe from drug-related crime; to cut the availability and acceptability of drugs to young people; and to reduce the health risks of drugs misuse.

Of course this is not something which can be quickly or easily achieved by the flick of ministerial fingers, or by the issue of White Papers or guidance notes. It demands a sustained effort over a long period.

But I am encouraged by the work and the commitment which is now building up throughout the country within the framework our White Paper set out. The Government departments involved - Home Office, Health, Education, Customs and Excise and others - are working more closely together than ever before.

Just as important - indeed even more so - all the agencies concerned - schools, police, customs, local and health authorities, prisons, prevention and treatment agencies - are working together much more effectively on the ground,where the problem is. Schools have clear guidelines on drug education and are dealing with drug incidents more effectively.

And local businesses, from big corporations like Boots and McDonald's, through to local firms are working with us to get drug prevention message sacross to our young people.

Much of our action, indeed, is geared at local level, where real progresscan be made. 105 Drug Action Teams have been established across England, with similar teams being set up in the rest of the UK.

I visit many of them - indeed I visited the Dorset Team here in Bournemouth only yesterday. They are committed to making the best use of all the available resources to make progress in the areas I have outlined. For example, many Teams are targeting particular "hotspots" of drug dealing activity are ensuring that drug misuse is tackled in pubs and clubs, setting out to communicate consistent messages on drugs to young people across schools, and are providing effective drug services to those at risk or already caught by the misery of drug misuse.

Last week, I announced the results of an exciting £2 million drugs Challenge Fund, which generated well over another £1 million of private sector money, for Drug Action Teams to develop projects throughout the country that can make a real difference.

We had over 82 successful bids for good new projects around the country.Some involved local newspapers and radio stations. Others involved famous football clubs, working with their young supporters. All had the backing, with money and other resources, of business in the area.

And what is particularly pleasing is that many of them involve young people themselves, who can be a real force for good here. The Prime Minister and I recently heard from a 17 year old young man called Danny, from East London, about the realities and dangers of drugs.This peer group education - young people themselves putting the message across to others - has a very important part to play. And I am glad to say it is happening more and more.

To maximise the impact of Tackling Drugs Together, we need the support of the whole community - schools, voluntary organisations, business and not least parents. That is why the Prime Minister launched this year an information guide for parents, giving them the facts about drug misuse, and helping them to help their children as they badly want to do.

And Mr Chairman, we need the support of this Conference, and of all of you as individuals in your own communities. I am sure we shall have it, and I look forward to the discussion we are about to have. (Distributed by PR Newswire Europe Ltd).

Related reading

The Decriminalisation of Cannabis in Britain by Stephen Abrams revised August 1997; version 1.01

See also: with few significant editorial changes EMCDDA (2008), A cannabis reader: global issues and local experiences, Monographseries 8, Volume1, European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Lisbon.

* Stephen Abrams was the author of The Times advertisement sponsored by the Soma Research Association [SOMA] on July 24 1967.

A Brief History of British Drug Policy; 1950 – 2001




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