Differences between methods of arrest and prosecution often vary greatly upon the individual not only based on previous convictions but often at times the lenient or hard attitudes of the prosecutors and unfortunately for many lack of background knowledge of their own human rights and basic principles of drug policy. Courts often fail to treat like cases with similar outcomes and also fail to treat unlike cases differently, not taking into consideration the nature of the individuals concerned and whether or not their activities were peaceful and practised without imposing harm upon anybody. Instead private producers and consumers of certain drugs are often categorised with the same illicit drugs traffickers whom often take little concern in the damage that they are bringing into the lives of individuals and the society in which they live in.
Although I must state this article is in no way legal advice and would strongly recommend that you don't exercise any of these principles unless you have sought the professional help of an adequately qualified solicitor, which are few and far between in the UK with regards to the specified area.
I simply wanted to explain briefly how the system often fails in consistency so frequently and how complicated and at times irrelevant drugs policy can be.
Drug laws were established supposedly for the safety of the individual and the immediate community around them and society as a whole and human rights were established to protect the individual regardless of gender, background and personal beliefs, to name but a few.
It is stated that UK drug laws must comply with UN drug Conventions, however, “The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971„ fails to incorporate UN drug Conventions into UK law so these guidelines are often overlooked as Parliament choose not to incorporate them, deciding instead that UK drug laws should hold the scope for change in regards to classification, in the light of new scientific knowledge. Which we now also know to be untrue from the unfair dismissal of Professor Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in October 2009, when he proposed a dramatic review of drug policy as he fairly stated that drugs such as alcohol and prescription medicines can have an equally damaging if not more severe impact on individuals and society than drugs like cannabis and ecstasy. Nutt also argued that taking cannabis created only a “relatively small risk„ of psychotic illness and objected to the reclassification of cannabis from a Class C drug back to a Class B drug, claiming the decision to be “politically motivated rather than scientifically justifiable.„
Drugs policy in the UK is instead made up of a seemingly random choice of factors including causing harm to the individual, effects on society but more importantly overall general public opinion (which is good for keeping votes).
Human rights on their own are designed to be indivisible, interrelated and interdependent, for the reason that it is not justifiable to respect some human rights and not others in the same way as it is to respect some human beings welfare and not others. Basic human rights involve freedom from torture and degraded treatment, the right to a fair trial and the right to respect private and family life.
Consumers of illicit drugs on the whole are denied the right to respect for private life by being denied the right to informed choice, even in the privacy of their own home also being unprotected from forced searches of home and person.
Cannabis growers as we know are denied the right to respect for private life by being denied the right to produce the plant at home for either personal or medical consumption without inevitable interference from the law.
However, this is not always the case for some drugs even if they are known to case more harm than cannabis itself. Excluded from the law are drugs such as alcohol and tobacco and up until recently dangerous synthetic man made “legal highs„ such as methadrone (miao miao) to which doctors and medical experts had very little knowledge of the extremely harmful side effects yet for over a decade have been readily available and manufactured by various companies, although being dangerously unfit for human consumption.
I refer to this because drug classification in the UK is supposedly based on scientific and statistical research on the harmful effects of substances both on the individual's health and well being and within society as a whole, although, two of the worlds biggest killers, alcohol and tobacco, persistently manage to be overlooked.
For instance, in 2004 in Scotland alone, tobacco and alcohol were responsible for 15,052 deaths, whereas, use of ALL other illicit drugs put together was 356. With cannabis use on its own (i.e. without tobacco) contributing to the statistics with the ever predictable 0 deaths. In fact the World Health Organisation's - “Global Burden of Disease„ 2000 stated that tobacco causes 8.8% of global deaths, alcohol 3.2% and illicit drugs as a whole 0.4%, cannabis on its own has caused no known fatalities to this day. (Although please remember bronchial disorders and respiratory disorders can be linked to smoking the named drug.)
This highlights the distorted view on which government and politics decide to base their drugs classification system.
So why prohibition for “controlled„ drugs but then individual rights for legally-available drugs? This is mainly due to the governments' legal power to prevent drug harm is misused for political purposes, to gain favour with the majority of voters at the expense of various groups of minorities.
This shows further that there is no objective or legitimate justification for the discrimination between these groups. These grounds for discrimination do not fit in with guidelines for drugs policy, nor the protection of the individuals from harm, and so they do not have a 'legitimate aim' and can therefore be deemed unlawful.
Statutory drug advisers to Government, have admitted that they have been discrimitive in elements such as legal status, in contrast to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO)
If any of these rights and freedoms are abused you technically have the right to an effective solution in law, even if the abuse was by someone in authority, for example, a police officer or the courts. You are entitled to bring a case before the appropriate court or tribunal in the UK. The court or tribunal will then consider your case.
However, what happens when a peaceful and respectable human being tries to exercise these rights and merely point out the unjust nature of the system? Well, as is the nature of drug law itself, it's not always straightforward and in some cases it is a long complicated process.
Edwin Stratton's case: Mr. Stratton who appeared in Soft Secrets issue no. 3/2009, was at home when a fire broke out in a neighboring premises, tenants of the street had to be quickly evacuated. During the evacuation procedure, police discovered cannabis plants that Edwin was growing cannabis for his medical condition, (he unfortunately suffers from Coeliacs disease.) Although Edwin was fully co-operative with police and admitted the fact that he privately grew cannabis plants in his home, he rejected a police caution, highlighting that it is discriminatory under the Human Rights Act 1998 stating that such laws are not enforced to people who choose to brew the equally or more harmful drug, alcohol. However Edwin was charged with producing the drug and refused to make a plea. Instead taking his case to the high court, who ruled out any leniency towards growing medicinal cannabis despite the fact that Edwin's claims of inequality had nothing to do with how he used the cannabis in itself, his main concern was, the false administration of the “Misuse of Drugs Act 1971„ on the grounds of illegality, irrationality and unfairness. This point however was not addressed at all in court indicating that Edwin's appeal was either misunderstood or the key factors of his complaint were completely overlooked. Indicating that perhaps the courts themselves are either unclear on the rights of those facing drugs charges or just simply chose to ignore them.
Alan Taylor's case - Alan Taylor is a secondary school science teacher, judged by Ofsted to be an “excellent„ teacher. Upon the discovery by the police that he was cultivating marijuana for his own private and personal use, he was suspended from work for many months prior to his hearing. Some time before Alan's trial, the police made complaints to both his employees and the education authority before he had even been charged with any sort of offence. The school was advised to take action, by doing so they lost a great teacher and a valuable asset to the school.
The way in which the police conducted this was both in breech of Alan's human and civil rights and also in relation to this, what was a private pursuit for the person in question was publicly used against his character without just reasoning before any official charges had been made against him.
The organisation Liberty claimed that “police disclosures of their suspicions to the school and education authority in this case are challengeable in law. We are pursuing this issue with formal complaints and possible legal action. In terms of the criminal matter the essence of the claim is to assert the primacy of Parliament and the rule of law, and to protect these principles from abuse by the people who have been entrusted with administering the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.„ How the police treated Mr. Taylor in light of this was both highly unfair and did not comply with either human rights, nor was it legal to act upon his arrest in this way before a ‘fair' trial' had taken place. Alan's case was dismissed from court and I believe that he awaits to take the case to crown court. Edwin eventually received a suspended sentence and ordered to pay court costs, However, he now intends to take the case to a court of appeal with which you can find out more about on the drugs equality alliance website.
‘The Misuse of Drugs Act' was created over forty years ago now, and although in this time public and scientific knowledge of substance misuse whether the substance is deemed to be illicit or commonplace has changed and evolved dramatically. The same cannot be said for drugs policy; in fact it seems that it refuses to develop alongside research findings as it once promised to do. Many different governments and Politian's have been in place since the seventies and besides shuffling substances up and down the classification scale periodically, scarcely little else has been done (either through ignorance or fear of losing crucial votes from majority publics) to produce a fair system when exercising drug prohibition. Instead government has focused solely on isolating certain drugs and magnifying the little supporting evidence that they have to maintain current opinions. On the other hand they have also done very little to bring to light the equally damaging effects of non - prohibited substances regardless to how much more harmful some of them are than the so called illicit drugs themselves. It also seems unfortunately that basic human rights often go out of the window when somebody is found to be partaking in activities associated with certain drug use; regardless of how private and peaceful the perpetrator has been with his or her actions.
All information used in this article and more can be found in the following places :
- http://www.drugequality.org/ (For more info on both Edwin Stratton and Alan Taylor, also a lot more in depth information and articles on the subjects.)
- http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8334774.stm (with regards to professor Nutt.)
- http://www.petertatchell.net/civil_liberties/cannabispolicyunequalandillegal.htm (Features Edwin's case also plus other information on the reclassification of cannabis.)