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Drug Equality Alliance Commentary on Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill by Darryl Bickler

Drug Equality Alliance
(6th December 2010)

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill if enacted would effectively emasculate and by-pass the expert Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). This would allow the government free reign to control various drug users, without the need for the statutory consultation process nor any of the required scientific expertise being present on the council.

Sections 149 and 150 to the Bill entirely negate the whole ethos of the legislation that sought to bring expert evidence to the heart of the drug user classification system. Section 149 empowers the government to bring any drug [user] under control without any consultation, this being a charter for political moral panic. Section 150 seeks to abrogate the need for the statutorily proscribed quorum of six scientific experts to advise on the council (experts from pharmacy, medicine, chemistry etc).

Seemingly the legacy of the sacking of former council chair professor David Nutt, and the subsequent resignations of most of the former scientists on the council, is now reaping vengeance by sweeping away potential heretics that might seek to use evidence rather than tabloid hysteria to fulfil the need to be seen to be doing something. What is doubly shocking is that these reforms were agreed with the ACMD itself, rather like turkeys voting for Christmas. Once given away, these powers Parliament bestowed upon the ACMD will likely never be restored and subsequent governments will be free to act impulsively driven by political moral panic.

The ACMD are the expert advice body, whilst there is a clear need that they should be able to act quickly (a reason for more scientists), there is no basis upon which the government can form a legitimate view to curtail all interests in a substance without some rational evaluation process. Why then, is this process being proposed without the ACMD, the main resource, rather than with? The ACMD who ought to be ahead of the game, researching, making recommendations for regulations to ameliorate the harm caused by all drug misuse. If anything, the ACMD needs bolstering, and amendments made to the law to extricate them from the interference and control of the Home Office. Further, in my view they ought to be made a truly independent, properly remunerated expert council that generally binds the decision maker. We have a crisis of a lack of knowledge and ideas concerning drugs and how to prevent the misuse of all kinds of them. Now is not the time to be making cutbacks to the virtually cost-free un-paid advisory council. The scientific quagmire that is the (none) understanding of the misuse of the newly evolving drugs mandates a fully functioning expert council. We deserve nothing less than world-class drug expertise, and the appropriate and fair regulation of persons with respect to all drug misuse.

Darryl Bickler
Drug Equality Alliance