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Positive Analysis of Why the Misuse Of Drugs Act 1971 Needs to be Replaced

Book review: Drug Science and British Drug Policy

An appreciation by Elizabeth Robson Taylor MA of Richmond Green Chambers and Phillip Taylor MBE, Head of Chambers, Reviews Editor, The Barrister, and Mediator

Well known Liberal Democrat, Norman Baker, contributes an important Foreword to this excellent new paperback from legal publishers, Waterside Press, “putting justice into words”. They all do just that here!

Baker writes that “It is time to see the MDA 1971 for what it is: a bad law that has the opposite effect to that intended. The so-called war on drugs is lost. It could never be won. Let us replace this knee-jerk law with something rational, something evidence-based, something more humane.” The call for action is well-timed but it’s doubtful that anything will happen, but at least we have this well-argued book from three Professors: Ilana Crome, David Nutt, and Alex Stevens.

The editors are an interesting, eminent gathering of professorial expertise.  Ilana Crome is Professor Emeritus of Addiction Psychiatry, the University of Keele. She has contributed widely to research, training and policy on addiction and substance use and is an editor of major textbooks in this field. Professor David Nutt is founder of Drug Science UK and author of over 500 papers and 35 books around the subject. Alex Stevens is Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Kent. He has worked on issues of drugs, public health, and crime in the voluntary sector, as a researcher and as an adviser to the UK Government. We are fortunate that the editors are supported by 25 experts of considerable standing in the field of drug policy, education, and research.

The case they put is that for 50 years the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 has “dominated ill-conceived approaches to the prohibition of drugs and the criminalization of many offenders”. The editors continue, writing that “wilful blindness to scientific facts has distorted the dispensation of justice, prevented lifesaving investigation, sidelined critics, and thwarted advocates of politically inconvenient drugs law reform”. Accurate as a statement, of course, but its indicative of the substantial failure to rectify what remains a massive social and criminal problem.

Drug Science and British Drug Policy is well-described as “an epoch review by experts from a range of disciplines shows how lawmakers and the media have ignored the scientific evidence to sustain badly founded rhetoric in favour of blanket bans, punishment, and the marginalization of opponents.” The book concludes that “countless individuals (including the vulnerable, deprived, addicted and mentally ill) have therefore suffered unnecessarily”. And, if nothing else, the statistics on drugs misuse prove the point again and again.

This paperback is the most comprehensive critique of the 1971 Act to date. The case for urgent change rests on the combined learning of leading medical, scientific, psychiatric, academic, legal, drug safety and other specialists to provide sound reasons “to re-think half a century of bad law”.  We need a new law for 21st century, but, sadly, we don’t believe we’ll get it for a very long time.  Thank you to Waterside and to the authors for at least raising the need for repeal and revision.  Probably another 20-30 years will go by before we see real action: not a particular pleasant thought but do read the book.

The date of publication of this new paperback edition from Waterside Press is cited as 9th November 2022.

Find out more about the book here: Drug Science and British Drug Policy

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