In the UK, the Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971 (MDA) provides the framework and process for the control of substances deemed harmful. Nearly forty years on, the MDA and the accompanying classification framework is coming under increasing pressure. Politicians themselves are now effectively assessing harms, rejecting the advice of their independent experts. But is this a sustainable way to set about controlling the constant stream of new drugs entering the marketplace?
Mephedrone is the latest ‘legal high’ from synthetic drug producers, whose adaptability in manufacturing (initially legal) psychoactive drugs allows them to remain a step ahead of policymakers and the law. With new substances constantly being developed and sold, it is clear that government cannot continue to regulate emerging substances in the same way as it has done in the past.
This project will examine and evaluate the ways in which the UK seeks to control drugs following the proliferation of new synthetic substances. This will include a fundamental rethink of drug control approaches, policy objectives and a serious consideration of intended and unintended consequences, including alternatives to criminal penalties.
Our work on legal highs will include:
An international review that captures a number of different approaches towards controlling harmful substances. This review is being conducted by Peter Reuter, Professor in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Maryland and founder of Rand’s Drug Policy Research Center.
Qualitative research including interviews and a series of ‘soft systems’ workshops with key people involved in drugs work in the UK, including a mix of high-level policy makers and frontline workers. These workshops will present different drug control frameworks and outline unintended consequences of drug policy approaches at all levels of government and society.
Drugs policy is one area of policy where people feel they have the least power to affect any type of change. It is one of the most difficult and contentious areas of policy, where the need for objective policy-making and consensus is most important to forge progress. Demos has developed research around so-called 'wicked issues' and 'soft systems' methodology which is designed specifically to question underlying assumptions, trace unintended consequences and then find consensus to make improvements to policy areas. Demos' pamphlet Connecting the Dots applied this methodology to heroin use in Scotland, alongside gang crime and climate change.
Wicked problems have no single solution. Connecting the Dots looks at the issues of drug trafficking, gang crime and climate change and asks how a joined-up approach will help has approach these issues in more realistic and successful way.