It's official: The Misuse of Drugs Act is the worst law of all time

Prices down, availability up: It;s no wonder people consider the Misuse of Drugs Act a failure
Prices down, availability up: It;s no wonder people consider the Misuse of Drugs Act a failure
Ian Dunt By

It went down to the wire. Our official competition for the worst British law of all time (important notice: there's no such thing as British law, it wasn't of all time and absolutely nothing about this is official) came down to a two-horse race between the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The latter squeaked it, by 28.7% to 27.5%.

The psychoactive substances bill, which hasn't even been passed yet, was in third place with 16.09%. Give it time to grow up a little and it'll be just as popular as its daddy. Section 28 came in fourth with 13.79%. The others, including the Dangerous Dogs Act, which is typically considered the high water mark of crap law, couldn't make it to double digits.

Overall the Misuse of Drugs Act is a worthy winner. It doesn't have the same level of philosophical or pharmacological catastrophe of the psychoactive substances bill, or the baffling incomprehensibility and political self-harm as the Health and Social Care Act. But the scale of its negative repercussions is startling.


On the basic level of effectiveness, it's worth paying a short visit to this page which lists the controlled drugs to which the Act applies. It is like a magically growing tree stretching endlessly into the sky. Year after year, more and more drugs were added to it, in a doomed attempt to make legislation move faster than chemistry. Of course, this eventually led to the altogether different lunacy of outlawing all substances unless they can prove they don't affect you – which is what the psychoactive substances bill does.

But the effects of the bill goes far beyond its inability to keep up with human ingenuity. It has manifestly failed to achieve any of its stated aims, as the following Transform graph detailing the number of dependant opiate and cocaine users since the Act, shows rather compellingly. There's another magically growing tree stretching out into the sky for you, except this time the tree symbolises the utter failure of British drug legislation.

The failure stretches to almost any aspect of drug policy you can imagine. Drug supply and availability increased, prices dropped, health harms increased, acquisitive crime to fund drug habits increased, illicit drug profits increased and conflict in transit countries increased. It is a remarkable charter of abject failure. And that's not even to mention the collateral costs, such as increased HIV transmission due to heroin use, which could be significantly reduced by bringing it out into the open and making sure addicts at least have clean needles.

To make matters worse, the government conducts no cost-benefit analysis or impact statement on existing policy. You can imagine why. The research which has been done suggests there is no causal difference between the strength of enforcement and levels of drug use.

Nevertheless, the current tendency is toward even less evidence, with the psychoactive substance bill purposefully side-lining the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. So the failings of the bill look set not just to continue, but to get worse.

Probably the law also features prominently because it so often directly touches on people's lives. Kids – and plenty of kids who have turned into adults since the Act was passed – often have their first contact with the police because they were caught smoking cannabis. If they are unlikely, that minor youthful offence can handicap their later career. If they are really unlucky, they are brutalised with a jail sentence. For parents, many fear their children going through this heavy-handed policing as much as they do them doing drugs in the first place.

It is the worst British law of all time, as voted for by you. And surprising absolutely no-one, the political inadequacies which allowed it to take place look set to continue well into the future.

Comments

Load in comments
Politics @ Lunch

Friday lunchtime. Your Inbox. It's a date.

Newsletter update
wa