Dirty political tricks and the membership of the ACMD

One of the most devious tricks a government can play is to hide a significant change to legislation deep in a  long and complex bill and then to keep quiet about it, hoping that no-one will notice until it’s too late. That is what the government has just tried to do with the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. A special mention must be made of the Drug Equality Alliance for being in the forefront of bringing this and other concerns about this bill to the attention of the media.

There has been a lot of publicity given to the plans to introduce temporary banning orders for “new” drugs which is included in this bill and the DEA are raising some serious concerns about that, but the issue this blog will address is the plans for the membership of the ACMD.

The ACMD is the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, it is the official body that advises government on many aspects of drugs policy. The ACMD is a body created by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act (MoD), the act of Parliament which is responsible for the prohibition of cannabis and some other drugs and it is central to the workings of that act. The role of the ACMD is described in Section 1 of the act:

1. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

(1) There shall be constituted in accordance with Schedule 1 to this Act as Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (in this Act referred to as “the Advisory Council”); and the supplementary provisions contained in that Schedule shall have effect in relation to the Council.

(2) It shall be the duty of the Advisory Council to keep under review the situation in the United Kingdom with respect to drugs which are being or appear to them likely to be misused and of which the misuse is having or appears to them capable of having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem, and to give to any one or more of the Ministers, where either the Council consider it expedient to do so or they are consulted by the Minister or Ministers in question, advice on measures (whether or not involving alteration of the law) which in the opinion of the Council ought to be taken for preventing the misuse of such drugs or dealing with social problems connected with their misuse, and in particular on measures which in the opinion of the Council ought to be taken—

(a) for restricting the availability of such drugs or supervising the arrangements for their supply;

(b) for enabling persons affected by the misuse of such drugs to obtain proper advice, and for securing the provision of proper facilities and services for the treatment, rehabilitation and after-care of such persons;

(c) for promoting co-operation between the various professional and community services which in the opinion of the Council have a part to play in dealing with social problems connected with the misuse of such drugs;

(d) for educating the public (and in particular the young) in the dangers of misusing such drugs, and for giving publicity to those dangers; and

(e) for promoting research into, or otherwise obtaining information about, any matter which in the opinion of the Council is of relevance for the purpose of preventing the misuse of such drugs or dealing with any social problem connected with their misuse.

(3) It shall also be the duty of the Advisory Council to consider any matter relating to drug dependence or the misuse of drugs which may be referred to them by any one or more of the Ministers and to advise the Minister or Ministers in question thereon, and in particular to consider and advise the Secretary of State with respect to any communication referred by him to the Council, being a communication relating to the control of any dangerous or otherwise harmful drug made to Her Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom by any organisation or authority established by or under any treaty, convention or other agreement or arrangement to which that Government is for the time being a party.

(4) In this section “the Ministers” means the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Secretaries of State respectively concerned with health in England, Wales and Scotland, the Secretaries of State respectively concerned with education in England, Wales and Scotland, the Minister of Home Affairs for Northern Ireland, the Minister of Health and Social Services for Northern Ireland and the Minister of Education for Northern Ireland.

The offending change is to remove the requirement for the ACMD to have any scientist members. It announces this massive change in the following way spread between pages 99 and 100 of the 101 page “Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill” which has recently been put before Parliament. Section 150 states:

150 Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs

In Schedule 1 to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (constitution etc of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs), in paragraph 1—

(page break)

(a)   in sub-paragraph (1), omit the words after “appropriate”, and
(b)   omit sub-paragraph (2).

This seemingly insignificant few lines changes schedule 1 of the act which defines the membership of the ACMD by deleting everything in blue below:

1. — (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.

Thus removing at a stroke the requirement for the ACMD to have any scientific members whatsoever. Make no mistake this is no minor tweeking, it is  a major revision of a central plank of primary legislation with far reaching consequences and quite how an ACMD without scientists is supposed to do its job isn’t at all clear. In any case whatever the arguments might be for doing this, to try to slip such a major change to the workings of the criminal law through in such a devious underhand way is utterly despicable and thoroughly unacceptable. If this is the way the UK government intends to do business we are in very serious trouble.

The reason for wanting to do this of course is because of the trouble ACMD scientists have been causing for the prohibition regime in recent years. Their refusal to rubber stamp Gordon Brown’s decision to move cannabis back to class B was bad enough, but when Prof Nutt – the Chair of the ACMD tried to make perfectly valid observations about the relative harms of drug use compared to other activities the previous Home Secretary Alan Johnson sacked him for undermining the politicians “message”. The sacking of course was followed by a string of resignations and for a while the ACMD was unable to function.

In perhaps typical politician style the troublesome need for actual evidence in the formation of drug policy simply had to be changed, ministers had to have the right to make decisions based on their own prejudices without any need for evidence based justifications so the scientists had to go. Had they tried to do this in a high profile way through the usual procedures there would have been an outcry, so they tried to do it quietly and they very nearly got away with it.

It is true perhaps that the composition of the ACMD could do with a bit of revision. Quite why it needs a vet or a dentist isn’t immediately clear and a good case could be made for a psychiatrist to be included. But surely any such changes should be made in an open and properly democratic way, not smuggled in at the end of a bill which has quite a different focus.

Of course a cynic would say this sort of thing is only to be expected of the Tories, but what makes this even worse of course is the involvement of the LibDems in all of this. Of all the major parties they were the one which seemed to offer the best policies on drugs, promising that future drugs policy would be evidence based, yet here they are as a part of this coalition jointly responsible for moving drugs policy in totally the opposite direction to the one they promised. LibdDem supporters really have been sold down the river.

So what will be the basis for determining drugs policy under this new regime if not scientific expertise? Will it be the views of the police perhaps?  More likely the views of the tabloid press will be the deciding influence , even more than they have been over the past few years. The evidence base for drug prohibition was thin before, this blog has often criticised the dodgy studies which the scientific evidence is based on, but this change trashes any pretence of being an evidence based policy.

Despite being almost no evidence to support the claims that prohibition is in any way effective and the mass of evidence which suggests it isn’t, despite costing a fortune and resulting in an ever worsening situation in many countries abroad, prohibition policy will be decided by here today, gone tomorrow politicians.

Welcome to the new dark ages.


Update Wednesday 8th @11.09

The Government has just announced its new drugs strategy which contains this comment on Page 8:

This Government is committed to an evidence-based approach. High quality scientific advice in this
complex field is therefore of the utmost importance. This is why we value the work and independent
advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which has experts from fields that
include science, medicine, law enforcement and social policy. We are committed to both maintaining
this expertise and ensuring the ACMD’s membership has the flexibility to respond to the accelerating
pace of challenges.

“maintaining this expertise” by removing the need for scientists?

More in a future blog.



UKCIA is a cannabis law reform site dedicated to ending the prohibition of cannabis. As an illegal drug, cannabis is not a controlled substance - it varies greatly in strength and purity, it's sold by unaccountable people from unknown venues with no over sight by the authorities. There is no recourse to the law for users and the most vulnerable are therefore placed at the greatest risk. There can be no measures such as age limits on sales and no way to properly monitor or study the trade, let alone introduce proper regulation. Cannabis must be legalised, as an illegal substance it is very dangerous to the users and society at large.

16 thoughts on “Dirty political tricks and the membership of the ACMD

  1. So hands up who thinks we;ll see Cannabis legal in out life times now?. This has really gone beyound the bounds of sense. So now the Government can do as they like based on the old usual fear and propaganda. Very sad indeed. Its seems as if the Daily mail know more about Drugs than Doctors do!. 1984 pie anyone?. Thses idiots in power truly do show how much they hold real sick people with disrespect.My heart sinks a little more each day now. 2010 has to be one of the worst years i can remember. So much bad news is truly so dishearting.

  2. Dec, I see it in our lifetimes… things often have to get worse to force a change for the better i.e. banking crisis resulting in tighter regulation (at least to some level)… I’m not happy about this underhand move.. in fact I’m utterly disgusted – politics/ideology over evidence… was something like that in the 1940’s…

    This issue is getting some good coverage… and the LibCon’s need to get torn a proverbial ‘new one’ over this disgrace. Hopefully it will expose our drug policy for the sham it really is…

  3. Further study of the Bill reveals more cause for concern.

    Another shocking proposal in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill seeks to shift the target of selective drugs prohibition from its duty of protecting society from the harmful effects of drugs, to the goal of directly limiting the freedom of the individual.

    John Stuart Mill’s harm principle sits at the core of British jurisprudence; individual liberty is respected even if the individual plans to do him or herself lethal harm. This is reflected in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, in that the harm a drug represents to the individual is irrelevant in law. The legislation is drafted specifically to protect society from the harmful effects of drugs, and not to encroach on individual liberty. This is why Parliament stopped short of prohibiting the use of most drugs (except in the case of opium, the only drug whose unauthorised *use* is prohibited under section 9). The 1971 government understood that it cannot legitimately justify interference in our individual liberty unless there is a social problem, which is why the Act was worded in the following precise terms:

    “It shall be the duty of the Advisory Council to keep under review the situation in the United Kingdom with respect to drugs which are being or appear to them likely to be misused and of which the misuse is having or appears to them capable of having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem” [MDA, S1(2)]

    Note that in the above phrase: “and of which the misuse is… having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem”, it is the conjunction “and” which guarantees the democratic character of the Act. Government power can only be legitimate if it is exercised to protect society; protecting responsible individuals from themselves is no business of the state.

    However, in the new Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, this democratic legitimacy is to be undermined within the proposed addition to the Misuse of Drugs Act: ‘Section 2A’.

    The new ‘temporary class drug order’ powers to be awarded the Home Secretary to control people with interests in new drugs, will substitute the term: “harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem”, with the shorter “harmful effects”. Social problems are surplus to requirements. The anti democratic implications of this reorientation are enormous.

    It is truly alarming that the government seeks to grant the Home Secretary such sweeping and arbitrary powers to imprison people for up to 14 years for supplying new substances, without being compelled to seek the advice of the ACMD, without regard to whether society is adversely affected, and without a requirement to evidence the belief in a substance’s ‘harmful effects’.

    The relevant text of the bill is as follows:

    “2A Temporary class drug orders

    (1) The Secretary of State may make an order (referred to in this Act as a “temporary class drug order”) specifying any substance or product as a drug subject to temporary control if the following two conditions are met.

    (2) The first condition is that the substance or product is not a Class A drug, a Class B drug or a Class C drug.

    (3) The second condition is that it appears to the Secretary of State that—

    (a) the substance or product is a drug that is being, or is likely to be, misused, and

    (b) that misuse is having, or is capable of having, harmful effects.”

    [Schedule 16, Para 3, “Amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971” Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill]

    Edwin Stratton
    Drug Equality Alliance

    Securing equal rights and equal protection through the rational and objective administration of laws.

  4. Could it be that the reason why the government plan to remove the requirement for scientific advisors on the ACMD is due to a failure to recruit that required expertise? The ACMD currently lacks its mandated scientists, and is therefore inquorate. Decisions made by the government subsequent to consulting an inquorate ACMD may be legally questionable, which would be untenable for government.

    The ACMD lost its requisite personnel in the wake of the sacking of Professor Nutt, and the subsequent mephedrone madness, which prompted the scientists on the ACMD to resign. The Home Office then advertised for a Chair and eight members to replace those who had left.

    The advertisement is available here:


    After the dismissive behaviour of Jacqui Smith and Alan Johnson towards its scientific advisors, it would be a surprise if the Home Office was flooded by applicants. Indeed, we believe they drew a blank.

    To conclude: in spite of James Brokenshire’s assurances, the desire to abolish scientific expertise from the ACMD seems more probably a result of the government’s inability to fill the vacant positions. Therefore, under the Freedom of Information Act, we shall write to the ACMD to ask how many applications they received by the closing date, November 18th 2010.

    If this is the real reason for the new proposal for the ACMD, then clearly we are in deep trouble: due to political interference, mutual trust between government and scientific advisors has been blown apart, with appalling consequences for policy in the United Kingdom.

    Edwin Stratton
    Drug Equality Alliance

    Securing equal rights and equal protection through the rational and objective administration of laws

  5. This news chills me to my bones. I think the UK is great, but things like this just make me want to leave the country and go somewhere where slightly more logic prevails. Not the tyrannical hand of government doing what they will without care for evidence, only to appease the tabloids and secure a few more crosses next to their names.

    The Lib Dems have firmly lost my vote for my entire life over this. Before this election I think I would have been a 40+ year loyal Lib Dem voter, but now…their credibility is shot.

  6. You all seem so sad. There are bound to be set backs but the momentum is there – especially in America

    Check out this page in support of a major documentary (transmitted 8/12/2010) http://www.cnbc.com/id/36022433/

    There is money in it and once that happens you have all the energy you need to drive change.

    What we see in the latest government pronouncements is desperation – the more desperate they get the closer they come to overdoing it with the arguments and loosing credibility with the public. Once America has a national policy on access to marijuana (or at least most states have one) you will see the pace of reform pick up in the UK despite the pathetic efforts to the contrary made by the government.

    Cheer Up ! and keep at it

  7. Oh to be sure we’re sad at this news, it’s bad news that they’re looking to rid the ACMD of scientists.

    It’s inevitable, yes, but it’s pathetic that we’re going to have to wait for America to lead the way once again. It’s a tad depressing that we are going backwards.

    Just Say No is the government’s new drug strategy, and we all know how well that works.

    Personally I think we need the economy to falter again so that the pressing need to gather the billions of pounds they could from cannabis manafacture, packaging, transportation + distribution becomes clear. They are sitting on a goldmine. In fact, more than a goldmine, I believe weed is worth more than it’s weight in gold in some places?

  8. What Sam said.

    Also, I don’t know if anyone noticed but the your freedom website is closed now so ideas can be ‘taken to the next stage’. Nick Clegg has made a closing video (September) about how all the ideas are going to be ‘taken seriously’.

    He didn’t utter a word about drugs policy and 3 months down the line this happens — I think we all expected them to ignore the drug policy suggestion(s) but perhaps not to move in the opposite direction as well. C**nts.

  9. Sorry that Sam finds it boring to keep bringing up tobacckgo which the pols tolerate because it is “embedded in society”.

    What everyone overlooks, I think, is the way that Industry uses their colossal bankroll (from selling drug to addicts, duh?) to bribe the government through taxes, individual politicians through campaign assistance, and perhaps most significantly, spend maybe tens of times as much further money on the sending of trained, well dressed zombie lawbuyists who hang around the corridors of power, schmooze with the pols’ staffs etc. influencing their thoughts toward the one central issue of protecting the generous taxpaying tobacckgo industry against whatever it fears, most especially cannabis to replace tobacckgo and Dosage Reduction Utensils to replace $igarettes. Look across the sea at Speaker-to-be Boehner with his Fish (R. J. Reynolds) and Gates (Philip Morris)– Fish Gate Alley?– and reflect that H. M. “Conservatives” are considered cousins of U. S. “Republicans”.

    Brilliant work Derek digging out that subtle editing-out of scientists– those crazies who might actually study the harm-comparison between cannabis and t——– oops sorry Sam.

  10. Not boring, and of course if you’ve got something to say then by all means say it!

    I just think towards the goal of breaking the stranglehold of prohibition unproductive, and almost counterproductive. Conspiracy theories don’t tend to garner much respect because most of them are pretty much bullshit. Tobacco companies lobbying government, I’m certain of that. Tobacco companies sending lawyers this way and that to protect their interest, ditto. But this doesn’t amount to a conpiracy in my eyes.

    I almost think the tobacco industry in this country will welcome legalisation in time, given that cigarette sales are on the wane. They’ll need something to bolster sales eventually, and who else has the expertise and experience in mass producing plant matter and processing it into smokable forms? They’ll be the first with their snouts in the trough.

    I guess my point is that at the end of the day the government will always have conflicting pressures applied to them from all sides, and that’s just something you’ve got to live with. There is no way to stop people attempting to influence government so there’s little point moaning about it.

    Out of interest, why do you call tobacco ‘tobacckgo’?

    And finally…we’re all on the same side mate!

  11. I would add that it is not ‘government’ that has conflicting pressure but individuals – the politicians themselves, who act individually and selfishly. A politicians’ incentive is rarely to act in the interest of the people if it conflicts with their own agenda or will result in reducing their chances for getting re-elected. If it goes against the good of the people they manipulate and lie (read social engineering) – Iraq, ‘taxi for hire’ lobbying episode etc.

    When it comes to drugs, although the science and evidence conflicts everything they say and every policy they put out it doesn’t matter as the public is still in a state of propagandised-fear over ‘drugs’. It is easier to get rid of the ACMD members who can produce said conflict and toe the ‘official’ line as speaking the truth is not politically prudent in the current environment. It sickens me that this is how politics is, but it is and without a change to the system (unlikely with all the vested interests) we are not going to get real leaders but more suave posh-boys who fold to the tabloids.

    So unfortunately, I think think we will have to wait for either the USA to topple the house of cards with Cannabis legalisation ooor a consortium of Latin American leaders sick of fighting drug wars on behalf of consumer countries to challenge the UN drug conventions themselves. But the movement is there, the wind is on our backs.. it won’t be forever before it happens! 🙂

  12. Here here. Jack and Sam. We Really Do Need Some Posative Vibes to End such a Bad Year. Well Done Gents. Pity those in Power arnt listening.

  13. Sorry Jake typeo,,lol. Lord i Need my Medication,,lol. Dam Stoner,,lol.
    Laughter is the Best Medicine.

    Peace Dec.

  14. UK Drug Policy Commission statement on Government proposals about the role and membership of the Advisory Council on the
    Misuse of Drugs.
    The UK Drug Policy Commission at its meeting today (7 December) called on the government
    to revisit the proposals set out in the recently published Police Reform & Social
    Responsibility Bill which affect the role and membership of the Advisory Council on the
    Misuse of Drugs.
    The Bill proposes two things:
    (i) Removal of the requirement for the ACMD to have members with certain specified
    scientific expertise.
    (ii) The introduction of new powers to make temporary banning orders for new drugs, and
    On ACMD membership
    Dame Ruth Runciman, Chair of the UK Drug Policy Commission said,
    “We have some sympathy with Home Office Ministers desire to have some flexibility with
    regard to membership of the ACMD. But in removing any formal requirement to have
    scientists as members they are at risk of ‘throwing the evidence baby out with the
    bathwater’. The UKDPC suggests that the Misuse of Drugs Act could easily be reworded so
    that the Home Secretary would, after due consultation, appoint people with a background
    from one of four broad areas. This would include:
    (a) Scientists from the natural and physical sciences (such as neuroscience; pharmacology,
    medicine and toxicology).
    (b) Experts from the social and behavioral sciences (such as epidemiology, psychology;
    social policy, criminology and public health).
    (c) Experts with backgrounds in tackling drugs (for example from drug treatment, health
    and social care, prevention, education and youth work and criminal justice).
    (d) People affected by drugs (eg service users and/or their families).
    This approach would overcome the concerns of many people that the role of science,
    research and evidence is being sidelined”.
    On Temporary Banning Orders
    The UKDPC also considered the proposal in the Police Reform & Social Responsibility Bill to
    temporarily ban new substances. This allows the Home Secretary to make a banning order
    but, unfortunately, does not, as the draft legislation stands, require the Home Secretary to formally consult the ACMD prior to making the order.The UKDPC believes this oversight could easily be remedied by introducing an additionalsafeguarding condition (to the two already proposed) that the Secretary of State consults with and seeks the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs before exercising the power.

  15. As if they will pay any attention to any of it. It’s them vs us now, we are the enemy in their eyes.

  16. Hello, Great article. It’s weird there hasn’t been more publicity on this. I wanted to let you know about the petition a lawyer friend and I have started called Keep Experts on the Drugs Advisory Council! I wish I would’ve seen your page first as it would have saved me a whole lot of time in researching this stuff. I found it very difficult to locate the exact text in question. Anyway, perhaps you might help publicize this petition!

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