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Majority of UK MPs support drug policy reform

A new report has revealed the majority of MP’s support evidence-based drug reform.

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Majority of UK MPs support drug policy reform

A new report from the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group (CDPRG) has shown the majority of MPs in the UK support drug policy reform, and highlights how current policy is a barrier to psychedelic research – restricting the development of new medicines.

As the rest of the world moves towards more progressive approaches to drug policy, the UK announced a ten-year crackdown on drugs. Dubbed the ‘overdose capital of Europe’, the UK’s new policy would see a record amount of funding funneled into reducing addiction and drug-related crime.

The new report from the CDPRG, ‘Making UK Drug Policy A Success: Reforming The Policy Making Process’, shows that the majority of MP’s from all parties want evidence-based reform in the UK – something the new government strategy is lacking. It also emphasises that the UK needs to rewrite its policymaking process for drugs.

The report says that the strategy, informed by the independent Dame Carol Black review, is confused between its approaches to problematic and non-problematic drug users, and “potentially places yet more burden on a criminal justice system that is already swamped by drugs-related work, serving to drive drug users even closer to their criminal supply chain and away from the treatment and security the state should offer.”

Time for evidence-based reform

The CDPRG polled MPs in June 2021, revealing that 72 per cent of Conservative MPs agree the process of making drug policy should make more use of evidence and research. 

It also showed that 85 per cent of Conservative MPs, and 90 per cent of all MPs, agree that improved cross-departmental coordination would better in helping to tackle the health crime and social problems associated with controlled drugs.

The recommendations in the report are informed by two round tables – one in collaboration with the Institute for Government and one co-chaired by Drug Science – as well as the most comprehensive analysis of UK drug policy to date. This analysis was carried out by the UK Drug Policy Commission almost ten years ago in 2012 and still remains relevant today.

CDPRG director of research, Dr Toby Webster, commented: “We’ve taken [from the analysis] the already established lessons of how drug policy should be made if it is to have a chance of achieving its stated objectives.

“The drug strategy is more complete in some areas than others – there will be a considerable amount of ongoing development, particularly in those areas for which they didn’t carry out a decent, formal, independent consultation, which is essentially everything except for treatment for addiction.

“Carol Black’s review of drugs part 2 covered the treatment of addiction very thoroughly, and it was clearly a useful resource for the team drawing up this strategy, as is reflected in the quality and detail of the recommendations they make in this area. There remains the opportunity for more formal consultation to improve the plans that are still being drawn up, and this is something we will be advocating for.

“As we engage with the ongoing development of the drug strategy, we hope to emphasise the principles of good governance that we present in our report, and we hope that this can be of some use – good policymaking processes lead to better policies, and this is what we hope to see.

“We are overall optimistic that there is an understanding that evaluating these policies properly, and having proper accountability, is key to making sure that we don’t continue the failings of the past, and we hope that this is maintained.

“We hope that the government’s commitment to evaluation and developing more sensible outcome measures leads to a willingness to admit and learn from mistakes, and change course if efforts are not working”.

The Government’s aim in its new strategy to help people reduce their reliance on addictive substances has generally been welcomed, but evidence-based drug reform groups said the new measures did not go far enough.

Drug Science urged the Government “to change its approach completely, and to adopt a rational, evidence-based approach of drug control”.

Responses also raised concerns that many of the initiatives listed are against evidence and will cause further harm.

See also  Reform organisations respond to new UK drug strategy

This sentiment from MPs and reform groups is an echo of the UK public’s views, with public polling from 2019 showing that only one in four adults believe current UK drug policy is effective at preventing harm to health and wellbeing, and three in four believe that criminal sanctions do not deter either drug use or supply. 

Additionally, a public survey carried out by YouGov earlier this year showed majority support for the rescheduling of psilocybin for research and medical purposes.

“The UK has made insufficient efforts to keep regulations up to date with the evidence base, and has been slow to respond to emerging information,” states the report.

See also  Majority in favour of changing law to boost psilocybin research in UK

Reforming the policymaking process

The report underlines the need for the UK to rewrite the policymaking process itself, saying that a methodologically flawed process sits behind the UK’s drug crisis.

Chair of the CDPRG MP Crispin Blunt says reforming this process is a “crucial foundation for producing better drug policy in years to come”.

Highlighting the inadequate capacity to carry out research that can inform policy creation as the principal problem, the report puts forward recommendations on how this can be changed.

“This is compounded by there being no specification on the extent to which policymaking must make use of evidence,” it states.

“COVID-19 has irrevocably increased awareness that the political and collective response to public health crises is best when guided by good science.”

However, the Government currently does not extend this to its drugs policy.

The 23 recommendations include suggestions to: 

  • Develop a National Drug Research Strategy
  • Establish a National Institute for Drug Science to coordinate research into substance misuse
  • Pilot schemes of new and innovative approaches such as harm reduction initiatives

They also include recommendations to ensure the Ten Year Drug Strategy is effective, suggesting that:

  • It should define specific, measurable and achievable goals, so that it can be clearly evaluated and held to account
  • It should include a robust outcome framework with evidence-based logic models informed by an open consultation 
  • It should clearly and simply outline the responsibilities of every involved department for achieving each specific commitment, and
  • It should outline the total projected expenditure including budgetary commitments of each spending department, and any funding which is to be ring-fenced for specific purposes

MP Crispin Blunt commented: “UK drug policy frequently misses its mark and our outcomes are among the worst in Europe for good reason.

“It has been apparent for some time that the way we make drug policy is not fit for purpose – indeed it is often chaotic and contradictory, barely evaluated, and with a distinct lack of senior accountability for the failures it has produced. This leads to an endless repetition of the same worn-out approaches, and outright denial from the top as they persist with strategies and legislation that has barely changed in 60 years.

“I am pleased to present our new report that shows in detail how poor policymaking has led to poor policies and poor outcomes, and recommends some steps towards improving this process.

“We are glad to see some acknowledgements of past failures in the government’s new drug strategy, and some more emphasis on data and evidence in taking the next few steps, but it remains to be seen if this will translate into concrete action.”

See also  Calls for UK Government to pilot Overdose Prevention Centres

Hindering scientific research

The new report highlights the current renaissance in psychedelic research – much of which, after 50 years of scientific censorship, is gleaning new insights into addiction and resistant mental health conditions. 

It notes the current barriers around the research of psychedelics such as psilocybin and MDMA in the UK – pointing out the multibillion market that is developing in this area across the globe.

“With over 50 psychedelics companies publicly listed across a number of exchanges, including the NYSE and NASDAQ, their combined market caps exceed $6bn,” states the report. 

“One of the largest of these companies is the UK-based Compass Pathways, but despite this and due to the harsh regulatory environment, there are currently no psychedelic companies at all listed on the London stock exchange.”

The CDPRG’s report, ‘Medicinal Use of Psilocybin’ shows there is little evidence of a social benefit to the current controls, and that there is now clear evidence these controls have actually slowed the development of new medicines.

The organisation, which has been campaigning for 24 months to reschedule psilocybin from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2, stated: “Returning to the ‘moral purpose’ and the spirit in which they were written, our drug laws should not inhibit the development of medicines.”

It continues: “The Home Office has been resistant to consulting the ACMD on the aforementioned scheduling of psilocybin for the purposes of facilitating medical research in the substance in the UK, despite the Home Office confirming that the substance (and a number of other controlled drugs) have not been subject to analysis or recent analysis of harm.

“The issue of the relationship between the Home Office, ACMD and use of evidence, in general, is contentious, with concerns that short term political priorities are taking precedence over evidence.”

To read the full report please visit: www.cdprg.co.uk

Policy

Calls for psilocybin access rights for UK cluster headache sufferers

Letter to Home Office ministers calls for the rescheduling of psilocybin.

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Calls for psilocybin access rights for UK cluster headaches sufferers

Backed by three top psychiatrists, 161 cluster headache sufferers in the UK have written an open letter to Home Office ministers Savid Javid and Kit Malthouse calling for politicians to reschedule psilocybin.

Cluster headache sufferers from ClusterBusters UK have said breaking the law pales in comparison to getting rid of the pain they live with. The organisation is the national branch of the global ClusterBusters organisation based in the US which works to improve the lives of cluster headache suffers.

In the open letter to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Savid Javid, and Minister of State for Crime and Policing, Kit Malthouse, the 161 UK citizens call for the substance to be rescheduled from its Schedule 1 status in order to fight for symptom relief.

Cluster headaches are rare and debilitating neurological condition known as suicide headaches for their excruciating pain – currently untreatable with existing treatments. The condition affects 1 in 1000 people in the UK. 

Psilocybin has shown promise in treating the condition and the citizens highlight it can also address the mental health impacts that stem from it.

The letter, which was written by ClusterBusters’ Vice President, Ainslie Course, states: “Sadly, there are very few medications which offer any relief whatsoever, and those that do are short-lasting at best but many, many people living with Cluster Headache have been successful in treating our condition with sub-hallucinogenic doses of psilocybin. 

See also  Majority in favour of changing law to boost psilocybin research in UK

“Not only is this a way to treat the physical symptoms of our condition, but this medicine can also treat the associated mental ill health, that is the depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress related to knowing the excruciating pain will inevitably return.

“Psilocybin is helping hundreds of thousands of people to live a predominantly pain-free life with encouragingly long periods of remission. This medicine has saved my life and the lives of many others.”

Three top psychiatrists – President of the British Association for Psychopharmacology, Professor Allan Young, Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, Professor Karl Friston and Regius Professor of Psychiatry, Head of the Department of Psychological Medicine, King’s College, London, Professor Simon Weseley – have also written in support of the suggestion.

See also  Majority of UK MPs support drug policy reform

They emphasise that psilocybin research can garner insights about the human brain: “When administered as a pharmacological challenge, changes in brain activity can be brought to light that inform our understanding of functional brain architectures and processing, advancing human knowledge and translational applications.” 

Due to its classification as a Schedule 1 substance, psilocybin research is off-limits to numerous UK higher education institutions and businesses, they say, as many of these institutions “do not have the economic and temporal resources to secure the necessary licences.”

The psychiatrists also highlight that psilocybin can be used as an adjunct psychotherapeutic agent to treat conditions such as anorexia nervosa, obesity, post-traumatic stress disorder and addictions to substances such as alcohol, cocaine and tobacco.

The two letters are part of the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group’s (CDPRG) Psilocybin Access Rights campaign. Founder of the CDPRG, MP Crispin Blunt, held a meeting with Prime Minster Boris Johnson in May 2021 in which Johnson agreed the rescheduling of psilocybin into Schedule 2. However, there have been Home Office delays relating to a misinterpretation of existing legislation.

See also  UK continues to delay on psilocybin rescheduling

Blunt raised the question of rescheduling psilocybin in Parliament later in October, to which Johnson stated he would consider the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs’ (ACMD) advice on reducing barriers to research with controlled drugs, and would “get back to him as soon as possible”.

In their letter, the psychiatrists state: “The Government has confirmed that there has been no recent review of the evidence for psilocybin’s current scheduling,” calling for Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty to review the evidence that support rescheduling the substance.

“Having assessed the evidence and history of this legislation ourselves, we understand that there is not and has never been an evidential basis for psilocybin’s current scheduling, based as it is on the UN Single Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971. This is strange given the emerging evidence of psilocybin’s therapeutic potential and clear neuroscience research utility.”

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Why Italy blocked the campaign on psychotropic substance cultivation

Legalizziamo! campaign coordinator Marco Perduca shares his thoughts on why Italy’s court has blocked the referendum.

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Why Italy blocked the campaign on psychotropic substance cultivation

Last week Italy’s Constitutional Court blocked the country’s campaign calling for the decriminalisation of psychotropic substance cultivation.

The motivation for not allowing the referendum to proceed is not yet clear and the campaign has been accused of being misleading, says campaign coordinator Marco Perduca. 

Despite handing in 630,000 verified signatures calling for a referendum, Italy’s Constitutional Court stated that the campaign will not trigger a referendum. The Legalizziamo! campaign group has said the decision is a win for the mafia and “the failure of a court that cannot guarantee Italians a constitutional right”.

The campaign aimed to modify the wording of “cultivation” in the Consolidated Law on the Discipline of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in Presidential Decree 309/1990. The court, however, stated that the campaign would force the country to violate its obligations to the UN regarding the prevention of drug trafficking.

Find out about the global coalition pushing for psilocybin rescheduling

Marco Perduca is co-founder and international co-ordinator Associazione Luca Coscioni and founder of Science for Democracy, the international platform promoted by the Luca Coscioni Association. He has been the coordinator for the Legalizziamo! campaign since 2015.

In a comment to Psychedelic Health, Marco Perduca, said: “The motivation of the decision of the Constitutional Court against the admissibility of our referendum has not been published yet so we can only respond to the words of Giuliano Amato the President of the Court uttered in his press conference on 16 February.

“We were accused of having submitted a referendum that was poorly drafted, with a misleading title and that the whole proposal was not in line with Italy’s obligation stemming from the ratification of the three UN Conventions.

“Mr Amato made reference to the website address on which we collected the signatures knowing quite well that that was the name of the political campaign to collect signatures but not the actual title of the question, which was decided in conjunction with the Cassation Court.

“Italy’s drugs law is very complicated to interpret but once you know your way through that legislative maze you know where it is heading: to punish conducts from cultivation to production, from transportation to export and import of illicit plants and substances. 

“Our referendum was deleting penalties only for one of those actions, cultivation, keeping all the other conducts in place – hence only growing for personal use would have been decriminalised, as massive cultivation would have remained illicit. Furthermore, one doesn’t need to be a botanist to know that one grows plants and not substance, one thing is cultivating coca bush, another producing cocaine, one thing is growing poppy seeds, another refining heroin. We do not cultivate wine but grapes.

“Mr Amato made that confusion and “forgot” to mention that prohibition to grow cannabis indeed appears in a paragraph of one of the articles we deleted as well as in the previous one – the 1990 law was toughened in 2006 but changed again in 2014 and sometimes it is difficult to keep track of all the changes, also for jurists – so, the accusation of having poorly drafted the referendum is a judgement that is up in the air as the law says otherwise. 

“Until we won’t have the motivations of the decision we can only speculate on the rationale behind it and respond to a brief, if not superficial, summary of the President of the Constitutional Court shared in a very unconventional manner on behalf of the 15 judges that took that decision.”

Speaking to Psychedelic Health, Perduca previously highlighted that the campaign also aimed to allow people to use cultivation for scientific research targeting specific physical conditions or pathologies. Perduca said that Italy is lagging behind other countries in psychotropic substance research. 

“We only have one centre at the University of Rome that is starting to study psilocybin for therapeutic purposes. We also grow cannabis for medical reasons, but nobody’s studying it,” said Perduca.

Find out more on what the campaign means for the Right to Science

Perduca is also now involved in a campaign for the Right to Science – an enshrined right in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This entered into force in 1976 and covers freedom of research, freedom of knowledge, including open access, as well as free and open data.

Whilst more studies are demonstrating the efficacy of psychotropic substances, such as psilocybin, for treating mental health conditions, prohibition of cultivating such substances hinders scientific research in Italy that could contribute to this new fountain of knowledge. 

To address what the country lacks in the field of psychedelic research, Associazione Luca Coscioni recently published a collection of presentations and international symposia – The Dose Makes the Poison. The collection features psychedelic pioneers such as Amanda Feilding, Rick Doblin, Ben Sessa, Carl Hart and Raphael Mechoulam.

The campaigners have stated they will not stop the fight to push through the referendum.

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Italian campaign on psychotropic substances has signatures verified

Co-founder and international co-ordinator at Associazione Luca Coscioni shares his thoughts on the outlook for the campaign.

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Italian campaign on psychotropic substances has signatures verified

Signatures for an Italian campaign calling for the decriminalisation of psychotropic substance cultivation have now been verified by officials.

In 2021, the campaign gathered the half a million signatures needed to trigger a referendum in less than a week. All of those signatures needed to be verified as Italian citizens in order to progress.

With the signatures now verified, one more step remains until a referendum can be called in the spring.

The campaign has focused on cannabis but pertains to the cultivation of all psychotropic substances, such as mushrooms and peyote. 

It has been spearheaded by Forum Droghe, Meglio Legale, Antigone, Luca Coscioni Associations, Società della Reagione, and is supported by parties Volt Italia, Possible, Italian + Europa, and the Communist Refoundation.

Speaking to Psychedelic Health, Marco Perduca, co-founder and international co-ordinator at Associazione Luca Coscioni, which supports freedom of scientific research, commented: “I think this confirms the good idea we had in August, which was that there’s so much popularity concerning the need to amend the drug laws – in particular concerning cannabis – that the moment in which a lot of people would have been allowed to do something very quickly to support the referendum, they would have done it.

Find out more on what the referendum means for psychedelic research and the Right to Science

“We collected the necessary 500,000 signatures in less than a week and the remaining 30,000 signatures in the additional 10 days. According to the law, it’s not only necessary to submit signatures, you have to document that those who signed are certified registered voters in Italy. 

“This is why it took two and a half months to count. This is the first step.”

The campaign aims to modify the wording of “cultivation” in the Consolidated Law on the Discipline of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in Presidential Decree 309/1990.

“The second step is that a title is offered for the referendum – which, according to our reading, was a little too strict on the words that we were eliminating,” said Perduca. 

“So, we found a compromise solution in which, despite the fact that the word “cannabis” will not appear in the text nor in the title, at least the conduct of cultivation, sharing and personal use are represented in the title.

Find out how UK drug policy is hindering scientific research from the CDPRG’s latest report

“The law is very complicated to amend. You cannot just take away a plant or a substance from the schedule. You have also to find other parts of the law that should be eliminated because what is penalised is the action of the plant, per se. 

“So, according to our reading not only of the law but also of the jurisprudence of previous decisions of the Constitutional Court that have blocked similar referenda proposals in 1997 – we decided to go this way. But at least it is clear that it’s a referendum about cultivation and the personnel use and sharing of so-called “soft drugs”.”

Perduca highlighted that the campaign is now working on a document that will be presented by two lawyers before the Constitutional Court on February 15 together with seven other referenda.

“This document will touch upon issues such as the international implications of the deletion of the parts of the law and the constitutional requirements of Article 75 that prohibits the submission of referendum on issues – changes to the constitution, changes in the fiscal system, but also changes in laws that have enacted international treaties.

“And there could be a doubt here that we are in fact, working to do that. We are not because we are just eliminating some words, so we are not un-ratifying a document.

“The law we are working on has never been considered an implementing instrument of the 1988 Convention on Drugs. And the third part is the penal part because of course, taking away criminal sentences, we have to give satisfying arguments that the law after the elimination of the words of the referendum is an immediately applicable law.”

The Constitutional Court has until 10 March 2022 to make its decision public. 

Perduca highlights that Italy is currently in a critical political situation, as, due to a new agreement that on 24 January 2021, the Parliament must elect the new president of the Republic.

“If the current head of government is going to be elected president of the Republic, there is going either going to be a reshuffling in government or – and this will pose a huge problem for the referendum – if they won’t sign an agreement there is going to be early elections. 

Find out more about public opinion on psilocybin in the UK

“The referendum will push to 2023 because our law doesn’t allow us to have political elections and referenda at the same time.”

If early elections do not happen – Perduca says the campaign will request a vote on the referendum to take place on the same day of administered municipal elections at the beginning of June. 

“The major obstacle now will be to reach the quorum which is 50 per cent of the population plus one vote. We are talking about 27 to 28 million people beyond the age of 18 to turn out and vote.

“The other important political element to take into consideration is that there’s going to be eight referenda before the Constitutional Court on 15 February. 

“As well as this campaign, there will be one on euthanasia which is also co-promoted by the Luca Coscioni Associations, which collected twice as many signatures as this one. So, legalisation of euthanasia is a hugely popular theme, but the other six have been promoted by the parties belonging to the center-right coalition, who are all opposing the other two referendums. So, if there is this synergy between those that will ask their voters to go and vote yes for their six and at the same time vote no to the other two. 

“We are counting on people to show up because we know both euthanasia and cannabis are so hugely popular. There’s absolutely no discussion that we’re going to win if there’s going to be a quorum.

“There is some hope that the turnout will be significant. If the Constitutional Court will say no to either, all six or to some of the most politically charged of the six referendums concerning the reform of the administration of justice in Italy, things will turn out in a different way. 

“We are ready to fight our battle.”

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Psychedelic Health is a journalist-led news site. Any views expressed by interviewees or commentators do not reflect our own. We do not provide medical advice or promote the personal use of psychedelic compounds. Please seek professional medical advice if you are concerned about any of the issues raised.

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