Some of the most interesting findings indicate that alcohol and tobacco are more dangerous than cannabis, LSD, and ecstasy, with alcohol coming in 5th after heroin, cocaine, barbituates, and (street) methadone.
The list is not comprehensive, omitting anesthetics like PCP and ketamine (Special K), hallucinogens like psilocybin/psilocin (magic mushrooms) and mescaline (peyote), and caffeine.
Reasonable Members of Parliament are suggesting that some drugs be reclassified:
Strongly influenced by the research, MPs on the Commons science and technology select committee demanded an overhaul of the system to give the public a "better sense of the relative harms involved".
They called for a new scale to be introduced, rating substances on the basis of health and social risks and not linked to legality or potential punishments.
They questioned whether ecstasy and magic mushrooms should remain in Class A and called on the Government's drug adviser, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), to look at the issue.
Phil Willis, who chairs the committee, said the current classifications were "riddled with anomalies" and were "clearly not fit for purpose".
"This research shows why we need a radical overhaul of the current law and a radical review of the classification system," he said.
"It's clearly not fit for purpose in the 21st century, neither for informing drug-users or providing public information."
One committee member, the Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris, said that putting drugs in the wrong category "undermined the whole system". "Lots of young people know that there's a difference between ecstasy and heroin," he said.
It's nice to see elected officials responding positively to scientific findings. I'm sick of the religious ideology that pervades politics in this country and results in the most illogical, anti-scientific conclusions and policies.
The fact that the researchers looked not merely at harm to individuals but at harm to society as a whole undermines, at least in part, some of the conservative arguments I've heard against the decriminalization of, e.g., marijuana. (Of course, one could always criticize the ways in which they gauge the degree of social harm, but at least they see the importance of including it).
It's always nice to find data like this to back up one's intuitions and personal experience. This should allow me to form a more coherent position on drug policy. Some of my new conclusions follow.
Despite their danger, it's not feasible to criminalize alcohol or tobacco. This doesn't necessarily mean, however, that everything below alcohol on the list ought to be totally unregulated. We may wish to keep some, especially those that fall between alcohol and tobacco, criminalized. And since alcohol and tobacco are themselves regulated, I don't see why we couldn't put an age requirement on the sale and use of cannabis, LSD, mushrooms, ecstasy, etc.
Here, I'd argue for 18; 21 is just ridiculous. That we can vote, fight for our country, be held fully responsible for criminal offenses, and so forth, but not drink is just idiotic. Now I'm not an advocate of the "forbidden fruit" argument (viz., that people want something more because it is denied them, so that granting access to it would actually reduce the number of users), but it seems to me that our current attitudes toward alcohol lead to binge drinking and other dangerous patterns of behavior.
By and large, I am very pro-drug use. Those of us with the misfortune of losing the genetic lottery (who suffer from depression or anxiety, say), can use them to make life more enjoyable, or at least tolerable. I definitely think people should be encouraged to take drugs like antidepressants and anxiolytics; I would even argue that they are underprescribed, not over-.
Street drugs are different, because their sale is not regulated (they may be contaminated) and they can come with nasty side effects, including dependence and addiction. Nevertheless, I see no problem with using drugs recreationally if people do so responsibly. We should educate, rather than indoctrinate, people about the risks associated with drug use.
Above all, I advocate the decriminalization of cannabis (for obvious reasons). Anecdotally, at least, comparing stoners to binge drinkers puts the former in a far more favorable light. Personally, I prefer the company of potheads to that of alcoholics. And smoking weed does not make people aggressive (or, even worse, sexually aggressive), nor does it carry any real risk of overdose (compare 16 UK deaths from marijuana use to 22,000 for alcohol and 114,000 for tobacco, in 2004; even if we account for discrepancies in the number of users, the cannabis figures are relatively miniscule).
Lastly, I would argue that cracking down on recreational users is a huge waste of resources. We don't need to be spending billions of dollars prosecuting victimless crimes, nor should we be filling our prisons with drug offenders. Really, the punishment ought to fit the crime. If the UK can understand that, why can't we?