In the UK, the government is to be urged to consider a controversial plan to reclassify drugs according to the harm they do. The new ranking system would see alcohol placed high on the scale because of its links to violence and car accidents. Tobacco, estimated to cause 40 per cent of all hospital illnesses, would also come before the class-A drug ecstasy.
However, there is no suggestion that alcohol and tobacco should be banned. The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce's commission on illegal drugs, communities and public policy has been examining what it believes is a 'serious misfit between the law relating to drugs and the way in which drugs are actually used by members of society'.
The commission, which includes John Yates, the Metropolitan Police's assistant commissioner, has heard evidence from experts and charities in a bid to find ways of making the UK's drugs laws more effective.
It has highlighted a study carried out by a team led by Colin Blakemore, chief executive of the Medical Research Council, that suggests classification should not be linked to penalties for drug possession but rather the relative risks involved in taking them.
The study of 20 drugs - both legal and illegal - weighed up their physical harm, their relative addictiveness and the impact they have on wider society, to produce a new 'rational' league table.
Blakemore suggests current drugs laws are outdated. 'The system has evolved in an unsystematic way from somewhat arbitrary foundations with seemingly little scientific basis. We suggest a new system for evaluating the risks of individual drugs that is based as far as possible on facts and scientific knowledge. It could form the basis of a new classification scheme for the Misuse of Drugs Act.'
Online report (The Observer)