16th September UPDATE
SADLY, THE GOVERNMENT HAS NOW RECEIVED ROYAL ASSENT FOR THE VERSION OF THIS BILL THAT REMOVES THE NEED FOR EXPERTS AND GIVES THE HOME SECRETARY SWEEPING POWERS TO BAN SUBSTANCES. PLEASE CONTINUE CIRCULATING AND SIGNING THIS PETITION. I WILL BE IN TOUCH WITH ALL SIGNERS IN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS WITH A NEW PLAN OF ACTION IN WHICH YOU MAY ALL PARTICIPATE. THE TARGET NOW IS THE 1961 UN CONVENTION ON CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES. BON COURAGE BRAVE FRIENDS!
Parliament is in the final stages of considering the so-called Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, portions of which are aimed at quelling public protest, but there are two equally nefarious clauses regarding the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and the process of scheduling a substance.
If Bill 62-EN passes, it would remove the requirement that Council members have any medical or scientific training or indeed any relevant experience, and instead would allow the Secretary of State sweeping powers to appoint anyone “he considers appropriate”. It would also allow the Secretary of State to ban substances for a period of 12 months instantaneously and without further study.
The only requirements for invoking illegal status on a substance and thus immediately criminalizing anyone already possessing it*, is that first the Home Secretary must discuss it with the Council, whose members s/he has been allowed to hand pick and that both they and s/he must be “satisfied that the drug in question is one that is, or is likely to be, misused, and that misuse is having, or is capable of having, harmful effects.” That sounds like a whole lot of guess work. Shouldn’t evidentiary proofs be required?
The amendment is too broad and does not indicate upon what basis future members would be selected other than the Home Secretary's judgement. It does not encourage people to study medicine and science when such knowledge doesn't appear to be valued by a government that does not think official committees such as the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs deserve to have members with any special training.
In 2009, this same Drugs Advisory Council’s then-head, Professor David Nutt, was forced from his position after he pointed out flaws in the current classification system that led to distorted evaluations of risk. This message, although undeniably corroborated by factual data, was regarded as not in keeping with the blind allegiance to the “war on drugs” that our leaders continue to promote. Now, the government wants to make sure that experts like David Nutt never get on the committee in the first place.
This attack on science, reason and the truth, must not be allowed to continue. It is a step back into those dark times when Galileo was arrested for telling scientific truths then considered heretical.
From the incarceration of 10 million non-violent prisoners worldwide to the tens of thousands of murders attributed to Latin America’s narco-traffic underground, the societal evidence correlates with current scientific data in concluding that the "war on drugs" has failed.
We support a rational society in which scientists are free to share the truths that they discover, without fear of suppression for political ends. Thus, we insist that people with relevant expertise guide policy on all important issues facing society.
Otherwise, one has to ask, who makes these crucial decisions, and upon what basis? Why should we be “advised” by people who have no special knowledge?
Reproduced below is the original text of the 1971 act, with everything after the word "appropriate" set to be stricken:
SCHEDULE 1 Constitution etc. Of Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs1(1)The members of the Advisory Council, of whom there shall be not less than twenty, shall be appointed by the Secretary of State after consultation with such organisations as he considers appropriate, and shall include—(a)in relation to each of the activities specified in sub-paragraph (2) below, at least one person appearing to the Secretary of State to have wide and recent experience of that activity; and(b)persons appearing to the Secretary of State to have wide and recent experience of social problems connected with the misuse of drugs.(2)The activities referred to in sub-paragraph (1)(a) above are—(a)the practice of medicine (other than veterinary medicine);(b)the practice of dentistry;(c)the practice of veterinary medicine;(d)the practice of pharmacy;(e)the pharmaceutical industry;(f)chemistry other than pharmaceutical chemistry.
Please go to www.theyworkforyou.com and enter your postcode to find your MP. You can send an email from there too, so in addition to signing this petition, please also send an email to your representative. Feel free to add your own sentiments when you do so and remember that letters received by post have twice the impact, so there is that option as well.
*Update: May 25 2010. An amendment has been proposed in the House of Lords so that those caught with temporarily banned substances would not be charged with an offense. Nevertheless, this does not alter the fact that "temporary" bans are rarely reversed and so this minor adjustment doesn't make the Bill more acceptable. - DT
*Update: June 13 2011. On its way to 3rd Reading in the House of Lords with many amendments to various sections of the Bill now proposed. Lord Ramsbotham has stated his opposition to both Clause 152 and 153 in their entirety; Baroness Hamwee has questioned the wisdom of "tinkering" when there needs to be a "rethinking"; Lords Rosser, Hunt of Kings Heath and Stevenson of Balmarca have proposed a replacement paragraph for the stricken text that reinstates the need for experts on the ACMD; this was also supported by Baroness Finlay; and Lord Soley has stated for the record that this issue should not be dealt with in this Bill at all.
I contacted Lords Rosser, Hunt and Stevenson and am told that our campaign will be mentioned in this Thursday's debate in the House of Lords and Vernon Coaker has promised to inform Clive Efford, Shadow Minister dealing with this portion of the Bill, of it as well. (D.T.)
The full text of what is known in Parliament as Bill 62-EN is available at this link, where you can also read the updates as it passes through the Houses: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2010-11/policereformandsocialresponsibility/documents.html
* Update: 19 June
Unfortunately, due to them not having been given copies of the "draft protocol" which outlines promises on how the members of the ACMD will be chosen, the Lords withdrew their amendment. I have since written them, asking them to reinstate it prior to the next meeting on 29 June. The draft protocol does not change the need for this petition and I HAD read it prior to starting it.
The recommendations for how the committee will be decided are not part a legally binding document but are in a supplementary one that is simply an attempt to justify the removal of the present language setting out requirements for ACMD members. The government wants to get "Royal Assent" on the Bill PRIOR to the replacement text being composed or added. Why? What's so hard about coming up with another 88 words? They want you to believe that they will in fact, of course, keep science and medicine at the forefront of their selection process and are not pursuing an agenda, yet seem unable to draft a few sentences guaranteeing that.
You can read the draft protocol at the link below. As you're noticing how reasonable it sounds, remember that as soon as the Bill receives "Royal Assent" (I know, but that's another issue) it becomes law and that is WITHOUT any language replacing the stricken text or any of the promises in the draft protocol being guaranteed.
Clause 154 - the draft protocol for deciding members of the ACMD:
I object strongly to certain clauses within the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill that is currently before parliament on the following grounds and urge all MPs to reject any amendment that:
1. enables the Home Secretary to temporarily ban any substance they see fit for up to a year, without going through the existing protocols which are proper in a democratic state such as ours. This would place far too much power in the hands of the Home Office. Decisions on substance control need to be arrived at with great care and on the basis of expert advice. What is done in haste is very difficult to undo later, so it’s important to get it right the first time.
2. removes the statutory requirement for the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to be scientists with wide and recent experience in specified activities.
As the 50 year anniversary of the 1961 UN Drug Convention draws near, it must be admitted that present policies towards regulating certain substances have failed. Future policies must be formed not by subjective moral codes or the latest press sensations, but by science, medicine, empirical study and reasoned assessment of harm potential.
It is imperative, therefore, that experts in neuroscience, medicine, psychiatry and sociology are selected to serve on any Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
What possible justification can there be for removing advisors with specific expertise from a committee on such an important subject? This does not make sense if the objective is arriving at the most sensible and well-reasoned laws.
The Keep Experts on the Drugs Advisory Council! petition to Houses of Parliament was written by Diana Trimble and is in the category Science & Technology at GoPetition.