The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs Refuses to Advise.

By James Collins

If you are interested in cannabis, or just drug issues in general in the United Kingdom, you should be familiar with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD). 

They are a committee formed by the government comprised of experts in the field.  There are social workers, former law enforcement professionals, and medical advisors.  It is their job to engage in fact-finding concerning the impact of drug misuse (a nebulous bit of terminology, but that’s another discussion entirely), then report back to the Home Office with recommendations presumably geared to protecting the public health and safety.

Since the collective sound of every cannabis user’s eyes rolling was just heard across the globe, let’s get to the point.  You don’t have to agree that the ACMD provides useful advice, engages in effective fact finding, or even serves a genuine purpose to give a damn about what has happened.  This isn’t a question of their motives or efficacy anymore; because where cannabis is concerned the facts just got swept right off the table.

Prof Les Iversen, chair of the Advisary Committee on the Misuse of Drugs (AC

Prof Les Iversen says cannabis is no longer an issue for the ACMD, because it is politicised.

Council Chair Professor Les Iversen said in a public meeting on April 11th that cannabis was no longer an issue for the ACMD because the issue had become “politicized” and thus was out of their hands.  This is a very disturbing statement, but it is also a tacit admission of what is really going on in the United Kingdom regarding drug policy.  They are stating, albeit in bureaucratic doubletalk, that the government is motivated entirely by politics and will not be accepting fact-based advice from the council.  It’s actually a very bold admission, and has garnered surprisingly little press.

I contacted Jason Reed, Executive Director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, for their take on this declaration.  I wanted to make sure my usual level of outrage was justified here, and it seems that they were as unsettled by this development as I was.

“It seems utterly incredulous that the official advisory body which provides a necessary barrier against politicking and intransigence has, for whatever reason, been stifled into an oblique submission.

The mandate of the ACMD is clear: to act as the nonpartisan arbitrator of drug policy. The segregation between an independent advisory panel and the political class is a deliberate one; it was conceived so as to prevent political muscles from trying out flex one another. With a glimpse into the inner core of policy making, we should at the very least raise eyebrows with a required and foreboding concern.”

They obviously share my concern that this ostensibly non-partisan independent body is now being mired in the political game that prevents progress on so many different fronts.

The attempt to address prohibition on the basis of the facts rather than the politics has been responsible for progress in many jurisdictions.  It is hard to frame the War on Drugs as anything but an abysmal failure.  Stuffing people into overcrowded prisons just for getting high isn’t making society any safer.  It isn’t even stopping people from getting high, which seems like a total waste of public resources at a time of austerity and budget crisis.  It isn’t protecting public health because whatever damage drug use is going to do it is already doing.  If the facts aren’t on the table in the first place then all bets are off.

There is something else to point out about this: Cannabis seems to be uniquely politicized as compared to other drugs.  The ACMD isn’t throwing their hands in the air regarding the discussion of heroin or cocaine.  They’re willing to address the impact of so-called “legal highs” (complex molecules which are psychoactive but as of yet unregulated by law) or other intoxicating substances, but cannabis is outside of their prevue now.

This speaks volumes.

Apparently Parliament, or the Home Office, or perhaps the PMO have passed the word down to the ACMD that their mind is made up on the subject and there is no need to waste time finding useless facts.  This suggests some backroom dealings going on regarding cannabis laws, ones which are not subject to professional consultation or public interference.  Something is afoot, it’s hard to be sure what, but this decision wasn’t made in a vacuum.

On the ACMD page is the following statement:
“In addition, the ACMD has a duty to consider any matter relating to drug dependence or misuse that may be referred to them by ministers. The Home Secretary is obliged by law to consult the ACMD before laying orders or making regulations.”

While they are stating that the Home Office is obligated by law to take advice from the council, they are also saying that this advice is no longer welcome on political grounds and so they will not be offering it.  So what is the point of a legal obligation if the Home Office can simply instruct the Council to stop advising on political grounds?  Does this not render the entire process moot?

Release, LEAP-UK and other NGOs have been engaging the fact-finding process in government concerning drug laws.  By making rational arguments about the harms done by prohibition, and providing documented facts about the success of engagement programs concerning drug use, they were making real inroads.  Now the Council itself has kicked the entire subject into a far field out of reach, essentially admitting that the entire rational process is window dressing.

Something has changed within the Home Office recently and it isn’t being made public.  If they are just outright tossing the facts on cannabis into the dustbin they must have foregone conclusions on the subject and are not interested in accepting further input.  This puts the voice of reason right out of the room.  A government willing to dismiss the facts from its own fact-finding organization is completely out-of-touch with the changing tides in society regarding drug use.

The good news is that an election is looming.  The coalition has almost used up their limited time in office and the time to cast ballots is approaching quickly.  This is the time to find out where your local candidates stand on this subject.  You won’t find out except by asking.  Yes, you’re probably going to get a boilerplate response, but that just means you’re knocking at the wrong door.  Somebody in this upcoming election is going to have something to say to the public on the subject, and it is better to find out far in advance who that person is and hold their feet to the fire.

The ACMD wants to hear from you as well, their website says as much.  You should ask them how it is possible that their entire function is trumped by political issues when they exist to gather facts outside of the prevailing political climate.  That is the purpose of an independent body like the ACMD, and refusing to address a subject on political grounds is contrary to their mission entirely.

ACMD contact

ACMD Secretariat
Seacole 3
2 Marsham Street
London
SW1P 4DP
Email ACMD@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk

Contrary to that, we can assume the Home Office doesn’t want to hear from you, so getting all up in their Kool-Aid is even more important.  One letter would be annoying, and require them to release a boilerplate response.  Ten would take more time.  A flood of letters, emails and phone calls tying up resources demanding an explanation would be even better.  It costs you nothing to send a fax from your computer, but it costs them paper and ink to receive it.  They have limited budgets and getting drained dry engaging a lot of questions genuinely irritates them.  This coalition government does its best work in the dark, so an angry mob running up on them with an army of flashlights is precisely what they do not want to happen.  Somebody owes an explanation for this crap, and they owe it to you.

Home Office

Direct Communications Unit
2 Marsham Street
London
SW1P 4DF
Email public.enquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk
Telephone 020 7035 4848
Fax 020 7035 4745
Minicom 020 7035 4742

Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm. The minicom service is for members of the public with impaired hearing.

Contacts provided are valid as of April 15th, if they get enough complaining they might change their phone number.  Let’s see if that can be made to happen, shall we?  This is where the rank and file of the activist movement must shine, by being a unified and deafening voice of opposition to the kind of sneaky backroom slime that has led to this latest development.   It could take as little as ten minutes; you could do it while you smoke a spliff or do some dabs.  If you want to be a monstrous pain in the ass and you’re feeling ambitious you could contact all the numbers and email addresses provided, possibly more than once.

The question is simple: How can the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs possibly say that cannabis is no longer an issue for them to address because it is “politicized”?  Is this an admission that they are putting the political considerations of the sitting coalition ahead of the facts, contrary to their mission as fact finders?

Each of us is like a mosquito.  One of us cannot bring down The Man by ourselves.  If you have ever sat in a jungle around sundown you understand just how quickly millions of tiny bugs can overwhelm you as the apex predator on this planet and send you running for cover.  Be a mosquito, encourage your friends to take a prick of their own at the beast, and with enough tiny pricks they’ll go on the run like a camper frantically waving a newspaper and a can of bug repellant.

To be completely transparent here, I don’t expect the ACMD to reverse their statement, or the Home Office to do anything but offer more weapons grade bullshit on the topic.  It is a slow wearing-away process.  Ultimately the government thinks it is getting away with things if people don’t express outrage.  Throwing your hands in the air and accepting it seems like consent to Tories, so if they’re going to ignore the facts you have to kick and scream about it.  Every time something like this happens there needs to be a response.  It takes a handful of people to notice things like this declaration by Les Iversen, but it takes a million voices to cry out in protest.  You just have to be one voice.  It won’t take long, and you might get a sense of satisfaction in at least having an opportunity to call shenanigans when you see them.  Nobody will know you object if you keep it to yourself, so give them an earful for their trouble.


James Collins is a Canadian blogger, author and activist.

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26 Comments

  1. In my opinion the ACMD do an excellent job. Their work is always grounded, science/research based, without sensationalism and framed in truth and reality, to attack them is to attack a friend, to attack Les Iversen is like attacking a best friend. Drugs have always been politicized, always. So coming out and saying so under employment by government whilst publicly and privately working tirelessly over a career to forward the cannabis movement is, in my opinion, very brave and should be congratulated. Surely he is just highlighting the stupidity of it all. That’s my take anyway. I have never contacted the ACMD as i personally would not want to ‘tie them up’ but the home office don’t like me much that’s for sure.

    • I am not “attacking” Professor Iversen as some have wilfully misinterpreted my words to mean. I am asking the public to engage the ACMD and seek clarification for this remark regarding the politics of the cannabis issue. I have also encouraged them to contact the Home Office and pressure them to accept the opinions of the Council as is their legal obligation to do.

      We can quote the resume of Prof. Iversen all day long, it doesn’t really matter if nobody within the government is willing to accept his expertise. The content of his remark suggests that the Home Office is intransigent towards the advice of their own advisory council, and as such they are in dereliction of their stated duties. Should be we able to get an admission from the ACMD that this is what is happening, it opens pathways to seek a remedy against the Home Office.

      To say you won’t “tie them up” is absurd. It is the job of campaigners to engage the government, not sit back and hope that it all works out in the end. While one alleged politician would have us believe he is on top of the situation, he wasn’t at the meeting and is not involved in the consultation process, so his influence on events is no greater than you or I. Rather than trusting a man who is more bluster than action will do it for us I think that we the vox populai have to step up and take responsibility ourselves. That is the difference between the model of different campaign groups: We believe in proactive campaigning instead of empowering one individual to act on our behalf, one individual who in this case admits his phone calls go to a voicemail that is never answered.

      I know many of the real professionals involved in the high level campaigning with the government, and they have had the door slammed in their face by this development. This is where the populist movement must step up, to show their support for those professionals and demand that the government engage the evidence placed before them as regards the issue of cannabis.

      I know exactly who sent you and why, so I implore you with this: Run back to your masters chair and ask him if he is the only “cannabis politician” in Britain why exactly it is he is not a participant in what are PUBLIC meetings at the ACMD regarding the one issue he claims to be involved with. Go ask why it is that he didn’t even know when this was happening when he states it is his sole duty to be on top of cannabis issues in the UK. For that matter, if he is busy, ask why nobody else in his organization is ever available to attend this pivotal public consultation process.

      When you’re done with that think long and hard about what YOU can do instead of sitting around waiting for Superman all your life.

    • To also clarify, there is certainly no attack on Professor Les Iversen or the ACMD on my part. Both Professor Iversen and the members of the ACMD are playing a pivotal role in this process and should be allowed to do so unhindered, that’s the whole point. The issues that I personally raise in James’ piece are quite clear about this. The discrepancy firmly rests with those that have indeed politicised the issue; the protagonists range from successive Home Secretaries to the media, with a whole host of others in between.

      The issues raised are not just restricted to cannabis. We also saw a wilful ignorance in listening to the evidence when Khat was up for debate. The ACMD’s recommendations were once again ignored owing to the politicised rhetoric of the potential for societal harm… which lacked evidence.

      There’s a growing body of eminent figures that champion a fully independent advisory body to combat the ever increasing and insidious legacy that we’ve seen creep into drug policy over the last few years; ignoring and overruling the ACMD with such ease that we’re now witnessing should be the area of concern that we place full emphasis on.

      • I wholeheartedly agree, perfect words. Let the ACMD play their excellent pivotal role unhindered, in my eyes unhindered means unhindered by everybody including us/me/we/you etc. Let them continue with their excellent work and aim time and energy to where it needs to go.

        “The discrepancy firmly rests with those that have indeed politicised the issue”

  2. Nobody sent me and i have no master so im not sure what all that means. I have been proactive on the cannabis front for many many years. Totally in vain but i keep it up anyway. If you want answers to questions from someone else im not sure why you are asking me, that last paragraph is somewhat strange and im not sure i understand, never mind.
    Drugs have been politicised forever, this is not new, Pro.Nutt said it, im sure Iversen has said it in the past, other mp’s, scientists, lawmen etc etc the words are a repetition said in abundance before. Much of my correspondence with government has revolved around that very point. You mentioned iversens comment as ‘disturbing’ i have heard it so many times it was not even close to disturbing. I think the best example of the stupidity of it all was when, against all the ACMD’s advice, ever, cannabis was reclassified to class b under grodon browns request. Non science based purely politicised, i spent months attempting to obtain a satisfactory answer to this change, all they do is repeat the ‘public health and safety’ ‘minimise risks’ etc…everyone knows the deal.
    The ACMD i certainly dont want to interfere with, they know their role they know their job and their own place in all this, why bother them. Government on the other hand i could not agree more, contact and contact and contact. The important part of the ACMD title is advisory, governemnt can fall back on this again and again, if anything is advisory it means you never have to really listen.
    Most of your reply is in regards to something about someone else i think, maybe take this up with them and not me.
    have a good one

    • Yeah, you do know what I’m talking about. You know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’re going to play the troll at least change your name, you make it too easy.

      • I don’t think im being a troll, you seem to have much knowledge of this area so whatever you think is right ok.
        Interestingly mr reed clarified his position and i find mine falling into his area of thought. Leave iversen and the ACMD alone, go after government ask for answers hold them to account etc
        have a good one

  3. Pingback: James Collins Article; NORMLUK - THC Medic

  4. The government stance on cannabis and other drugs (such as alcohol and tobacco) is actually against the law – i.e. the “Misuse of Drugs Act”. The act states that the government must produce a legal scale that reflects the relative harm for all drugs. The assessment of harm (according to the act) must come from the Advisory council alone (they are the arbiters on this matter!). The government is not allowed to ignore their findings under the wording of the act ! If they do ignore these findings then the act is no longer valid and neither are any criminal convictions secured under this act !!!!

    So I can see why the council are fed up – there is nothing more for them to say on the subject. Report after report has classified alcohol as a more dangerous substance than cannabis yet under the classification system we have alcohol is legal and cannabis is not. It is not for the advisory council to challenge the government (and those of the past 40 years) – that is your job NORML !!

    READ THE ACT – accept that the home office is not abiding by it and challenge it in court !
    (What has been said by Prof Les Iversen actually helps you in this challenge)

    Do some homework you fucking useless stoners – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misuse_of_Drugs_Act_1971 (follow the links after reading an overview)

    (PLEASE TELL ME WHY I AM WRONG IF YOU BELIEVE I AM WRONG)

    • It is difficult to know what more legalisation campaigners want from the ACMD, it is not very long since the ACMD reported on cannabis. they emphatically did not say it should be legalised, in fact they listed the harms. Most recommendations from the ACMD were followed by the government of the time and supported by the two main parties.

      The only matter for debate was classification, the ACMD preferred “C” but were importantly, not unanimous. The Labour government also taking advice from outside the ACMD (as it is perfectly entitled to do), decided on balance on “B”, the traditional place. It was supported by Cameron and the Conservatives.

      I think the classification itself had become totemic. There is an air of spurious precision about the classification of drugs.

      Iversen many years ago, used to argue for legalisation, he no longer does that and apparently changed his mind, some time ago. Well it happens, Developing science does change peoples minds.

      There is nothing of real significance in the academic work since 1997 and the WHO Report on cannabis, to cause any real change in public policy, the contrary actually. (Dunedin, Van Os etc). Much of the pro legalisation stuff is incestuous, self referenced stuff by legalisation campaigners. Fair enough, that is public debate. It happens. It just has not got anywhere in the Uk , That also happens. That is democracy.

      Cannabis through early onset use may well be one of the most potentially dangerous drugs around, not for everyone but for enough young people for it and the personal/social costs to matter.

      • David Raynes is a notorious prohibitionist who is on a crusade against cannabis.

        You will note he has left a comment but no evidence to back up his absurd claims that cannabis is one of the most potentially dangerous drugs to young people.

        Even if you did accept the extraordinary claims of David Raynes as valid, it is still the case that prohibition does more harm than good if you wish to restrict access to young people. In The Netherlands, they have lower cannabis use amongst minors, precisely because it is sold in licensed coffeeshops who face strict sanctions if they are caught selling to under 18s.

        It is a scientific fact that alcohol is far more dangerous than cannabis, yet this is legally available through licensed outlets to the adult population of the UK who do not need nannying by interfering busy bodies like David Raynes, who do not know what they are talking about.

        The uncomfortable truth for dinosaurs like David Raynes is that in The Netherlands cannabis has been legally available for around 40 years now to over 18s causing no harm to Dutch society whatsoever. At the beginning of this year, Colorado legalised recreational cannabis, again, causing no social problems; only taking the business away from the criminals, introducing regulations and generating millions in taxation.

        One has to question the motives of people like David Raynes who wish to keep the supply of cannabis in the hands of organised crime. Of course he is not interested in facts or evidence based policy, which is why he resorts to lies and misinformation on the subject of cannabis.

        Will David Raynes ever debate the subject of cannabis in public against a pro-legalisation campaigner? No, because he knows he would not be capable of winning the argument.

        His views are draconian and only benefit the organised criminal gangs who make billions from the illegality of cannabis. They are also cruel in that they are denying a wonderful natural medicine to patients who need cannabis to alleviate pain and suffering to live a normal life.

        I would like to ask Mr Raynes what he thinks about the children who are people trafficked from Vietnam to Britain to grow sub-standard cannabis, in terrible conditions, by ruthless criminals. If Mr Raynes really cared about the children he would not campaign to maintain cannabis prohibition. The guy is an idiot.

          • LOL you posted a link to a debate with Peter Hitchens and the racist homophobic bigot Peter Reynolds, probably the only cannabis campaigner in the world who could lose a cannabis debate in front of a room full of students.

            That’s a bit like beating a one legged man in an arse kicking contest.

            A few weeks prior to that event, Hitchens lost a similar debate against Howard Marks, as he always does, apart from on this one occasion he debated with Reynolds.

            Is that the best you can come up with? No wonder you said you are not prepared to debate on here, because you know you cannot win the arguments. The fact you point to winning a single debate against a racist looney like Peter Reynolds is living proof.

            Evidently David Raynes doesn’t want to debate the cannabis issue with people who know what they are talking about.

      • Ha ha ha, of course Prof Les Iversen had to change his mind on cannabis, otherwise he wouldn’t have been allowed to be head of the ACMD.

        Doesn’t David Raynes remember what happens to you if you tell the truth about cannabis (or other drugs)? You get the sack, as was the case with Prof Iversen’s predecessor, Prof Nutt, who was sacked by the Government of the time for telling the truth about cannabis and calling for evidence based drugs policy.

        That said, Prof Iversen was still brave enough to say cannabis was no longer an issue for the ACMD because the issue had become “politicised”. It is an outrage the ACMD are not prepared to discuss cannabis, because the head of the organisation says it has become “politicised”.

        Cannabis prohibition is in its dying days, as more and more countries adopt an evidence-based approach to drugs policy, while wing-nuts like David Raynes will be sidelined to the dustbin of history where they truly belong.

    • While I agree with you Phrtao RE your interoperation of the Misuse of Drugs Act, doesn’t challenging stuff in courts cost tens of thousands of pounds? Please enlighten us useless stoners as to where we can find the money to do this?

    • You are correct to complain that the administration is unlawful but partly wrong as to why. A harm based scale is not a lawful requirement as such but the Act does aim to reduce social harms. The point here is that the govt is not obliged to take any notice of the ACMD’s views (David Nutt was quite wrong to say it was their decision being overruled), so seemingly the ACMD realise that they are not being taken notice of and so choose to spend their time more productively doing what the govt expects.

  5. You can’t help wonder how much of a role the state of the economy has had in the government’s attitude towards legislation regarding cannabis. If it is true that they’re starting to revert to the same old reactionary stance, then it’s interesting timing to say the least.

    Like you say, it’s very hard to know what anyone in power means these days. What does it even mean to say that cannabis is now a political issue? It could meaning anything or nothing, and I’m not sure any of us can know.

  6. This is very interesting debate, very applicable to the latest classification of khat. Alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis and khat combined together. The ACMD is a professional body, balanced, scientific, objective and consisted of top professors in the fields related to drugs.

    We as a Yemeni community feel that the latest classification of khat to be immoral and racially motivated. The reclassification of khat according to the misuse of drugs should be consulted with the ACMD as a requirement then how the government ignores the advice!

    What can we do to challenge this law in court!, I think we should be united and make our voices heard. I always follow reasons and logic and that’s why I don’t drink, my choice of a drug is khat because it is the least harmful! if science can prove that khat is dangerous then I will quit but certainly I won’t accept a law that infringe my human right, not here in the UK or anywhere else on earth.

    • Safwan
      I do not think you can speak for all the users of Khat even all the Yemenis,

      I was contacted by a substantial Somali community pressure group seeking advice on how to progress their case. I was also contacted by academic researchers.

      I gave that advice and I told the Home Office and the ACMD what I knew about Khat trafficking and organised crime.

      The UK did not by any means rush to proscribe Khat compared to other countries in Western Europe or elsewhere..

      • David Raynes is a failed customs officer and arch prohibitionist. His only answer to drugs policy is ban ban ban and to continue with the failed policies of prohibition.

        The fact now a legal market of a plant which is not particularly dangerous is now moved over to the hands of organised crime does not bother Mr Raynes. He makes a living from prohibition and does not care of the misery these failed policies produce.

        It frightens me that this idiot gives advice to the government and they listen to him, no wonder drugs policy is such a joke if clowns like Mr Raynes have the ear of the government.

      • David, I don’t understand! what is your position and what you knew about traffic khat! every accusation must be support with evidence. Personal opinions do not count what is your evidence you claim you have? or you don’t have in this case?

        • Safwan
          I did not take a personal position on Khat. But once it was banned in the Netherlands and almost everywhere else the arguments changed.

          In the late 90s Officers under my command were investigating Khat being heavily trafficked from the UK to North America where it was being exchanged for Cocaine to bring back to UK.

          • Can you explain to me, Why the position changed since the Netherlands banned khat! doesn’t it bother the UK that Holland legalized cannabis the class b drug in the UK! . In other words why the Netherlands doesn’t stop cannabis or stop being a distribution hub for cannabis to the rest of Europe! in comparison to the khat issue!

            What I can say, the Netherlands excuse is pathetic and so banning khat here because it is banned somewhere else. America is legalizing Cannabis and it is class b here! are you going to follow America regardless! becoming a tail

            Another issue and this is vivid imagination, khat for Cook! have you got evidence, cases, convection etc or just pure opinions like linking khat to terrorism which it is something came from the back side of Awali!

            Do you follow evidence or what!

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