Leaked Doc Advised Gov to Decriminalise Weed in 2016

Liz Filmer
24 Sep 2023

A leaked report has shown that the UK government's official drug advisers privately endorsed the abolition of the criminalisation of personal-use drug possession in 2016.

This allegation comes after the Guardian newspaper saw a 27-page pro-decriminalisation report. A report which the Home Office ignored on its creation in 2016 but then fought a three-year battle to keep confidential after a freedom of information request.

The report sent to the then-home secretary by the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs emphasised several profound concerns around criminalising drug use and is the only ACMD report not to have been made public.

The report says there is "little consistent international evidence that the criminalisation for possessing drugs for personal use is effective in reducing drug use".

It said the UK was not instructed to criminalise drug use under its treaty commitments and that criminalisation only harmed people's educational and employment prospects.

The ACMD's recommendation was that "the Home Office reviews the personal possession offence (MDA). The review could result in the offence of possession for personal use being repealed."

The disclosure arrives amid rising criticism of the Government's law and order approach to drug policy, which the Scottish Government have recently claimed has caused more substantial harm to people who used drugs. 

"The suppression of these recommendations reveals what most experts have long concluded: the Home Office has zero interest in drug policies that work. Their behaviour demonstrates a desire to deny expert evidence revealing their persisting criminalisation approach as illogical, inhuman and ineffective."

These were the words of Professor David Nutt, who served as the Government's chief drug adviser in 2009 but was sacked after correctly arguing that alcohol is more dangerous than particular illegal drugs.

The report sought to reconcile the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act with 2016's Psychoactive Substances Act, which typically does not criminalise possession. However, it also addressed real concerns surrounding UK drug policy among professionals. It talks about Portugal's documented success in decriminalising drugs. It states that drug use has stayed stable in nations that still criminalise possession.

 "The committee must have felt pressured into calling for a review in secret. If the recommendation had been published then, it would have informed lawmaking and public debate – accelerating much-needed reforms and reducing the catastrophic impacts of the UK's failed drug laws."- Steve Rolles, Transform Drug Policy Foundation.

Former prime minister of New Zeal and chair of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, Helen Clark, commented, "It would be commendable if the UK government were now to accept and act on this advice".

MPs on the Home Affairs select committee challenged the minister for policing, Chris Philp, over the report only this year. Still, he declined to be drawn on its contents. "The advice was provided privately. It's improbable we'd want to disclose."

However, a first-tier tribunal in January dismissed the Home Office's confidentiality opinion but tolerated the idea that drug policy reform debates were "live at the relevant time", protecting the report from disclosure.

This followed a decision by the information commissioner in September 2021 that judged likewise. "The commissioner is satisfied that the policy that the report relates to is live and subject to ongoing review," This judgement came in contrast to the ongoing remarks from the Government that they had no agendas to decriminalise drugs.

A Home Office spokesperson has commented that the document, dating seven years ago, was not classed as a formal review with any proposals for publication. The Government believes there is no safe way to take illegal drugs. They are still viewed as causing devastation to lives, families, and damaging communities. It was reiterated that there are no current plans to consider the legalisation or decriminalisation of drugs.

More on this topic from Soft Secrets:

Scotland propose decriminalisation


Improve access to medicinal cannabis

UK crackdown


Liz Filmer