Dr Grumble is a jobbing doctor. Until recently he knew very little about the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. It doesn't affect jobbing doctors. If doctors like Grumble do not know the details of how individual drugs are classified it is unlikely that those who use illicit drugs take much interest either. The penalties for just being in possession of the least harmful of these substances (Class C drugs) could be 2-year imprisonment. For supply it could be 14 years. That's a long time. Many would think that would put people off taking or trading drugs. But it doesn't seem to. pdf
Patients often tell Dr Grumble they take recreational drugs. Given the penalties he thinks they are unwise. Patients think their notes are confidential. They are. We wouldn't tell the police. We wouldn't tell the patient's employers. We wouldn't even tell the patient's nearest and dearest. But we would tell others with the patient's permission.
Once Dr Grumble had a young solicitor as a patient. He told Dr Grumble's staff that he had taken cannabis. It was recorded in his notes. Which was fine until the young solicitor applied for life insurance and the life insurance company insisted on seeing his records. And then they spotted the single entry recording that he had once smoked a joint. The cat was out of the bag. The patient denied he had ever smoked cannabis and insisted on seeing the original written entry in the hospital records. There it was in black and white. Taking illicit drugs is a serious matter if you are a solicitor.
What is the point of this tale? It is to point out that what Home Secretaries admit to having done in their youth without apparently having suffered any harm can be very damaging to professionals. It is not the drug effects that cause the damage. It is the legal consequences. But whether these potential consequences actually stop the average punter is quite another matter.
What anyway is the point of locking up somebody who is found in possession of a small amount of cannabis? Who are they harming? If they are harming themselves isn't that their own affair?
There was a time when homosexual acts were illegal. Why? Those involved did no harm. The objections were moral. What are the objections when it comes to drugs? Why do we lock these people up? Does it make any sense?
Of course if these strict penalties were to prevent people using drugs that might possibly damage them or others then perhaps the penalties could have some justification. But what is the evidence that this is the case? What, for example, happened in Portugal in the five years after possession of drugs for personal use was been decriminalised? These are the facts:
- illegal drug use by teenagers declined
- the rate of HIV infections among drug users dropped
- deaths related to heroin and similar drugs were cut by more than half
- the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction doubled
If you are interested in this topic Dr Grumble recommends this article. It is the one that lost Professor Nutt his 'job'.