In 2006 the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs said that this fundamental inequality is "based on historical and cultural factors and lack[s] a consistent and objective basis". Shortly thereafter the government confirmed this in response to the Science and Technology Committee's 2006 report Drug classification: making a hash of it? in which they said: "The distinction between legal and illegal substances is not unequivocally based on pharmacology, economic or risk benefit analysis. It is ... based in large part on historical and cultural precedents."
The government went on to say that "a classification system that applies to legal as well as illegal substances would be unacceptable to the vast majority of people who use, for example alcohol, responsibly and would conflict with deeply embedded historical tradition and tolerance of consumption of a number of substances that alter mental functioning". Hardison's appeal questions why that tolerance is not extended to the equally or less-harmful psychedelic-type drugs of his indictment.
In 2007 a paper by Professor David Nutt, the current ACMD Chairman, and Professor Colin Blakemore, the former Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council, appeared in The Lancet entitled Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse. This paper describes the first scientific ranking of the relative harmfulness of the most commonly used drugs and fatally undermines Government’s subjective rational for their arbitrary administration of the Act’s classification system.
“The current classification system has evolved in an unsystematic way from somewhat arbitrary foundations with seemingly little scientific basis. […] Our findings raise questions about the validity of the current Misuse of Drugs Act classification, despite the fact that it is nominally based on an assessment of risk to users and society. The discrepancies between our findings and current classifications are especially striking in relation to psychedelic type drugs. Our results also emphasise that the exclusion of alcohol and tobacco from the Misuse of Drugs Act is, from a scientific perspective, arbitrary. We saw no clear distinction between socially acceptable and illicit substances”. (The Lancet 369: 1047-1053)
The government has since stated that their "policy is to regulate drugs which are classified as illegal or controlled through the 1971 act, and to regulate the use of alcohol and tobacco separately". Hardison believes that "this inequality of treatment make my convictions under the Misuse of Drugs Act unsafe, and I am seeking the court's protection. This executive abuse of power thwarts the policy and purpose of the Misuse of Drugs Act and has provided a morally unacceptable foundation for the exercise of jurisdiction over me".
Should Hardison's appeal succeed, government will be forced to prohibit alcohol and tobacco equally, or regulate the possession, production and commerce of dangerous or otherwise harmful drugs in a rational and objective manner.
Hardison states that this unequal treatment of drugs and persons who produce, trade and use them has caused immense harm to society. The under-regulation of alcohol and tobacco activities has contributed to over a million deaths in the United Kingdom alone and the over-regulation of the equally or less-harmful 'controlled' drug activities has criminalised millions of otherwise law-abiding persons, clogged our courts and prison system, and fuelled an unregulated black market governed only by the law of unintended consequences.
Hardison's appeal could be the solution to prison overcrowding, with the potential to free up the spaces currently occupied by 14,000 non-violent drug offenders immediately, with an estimated cost-saving of £490 million each year, and the potential to tax a fully-regulated market.
As an added benefit, the Independent Drug Monitoring Unit has estimated that the current unregulated drug market is worth £4-8 billion in taxes annually, and Transform Drug Policy Foundation believes that a fully regulated drug market would eliminate the five types of crime engendered by the current prohibitionist regime:
International criminal gangs; local criminal gangs; acquisitive crimes and prostitution to feed addictions; and offences against the prohibition regime.
Hardison believes his appeal is in the public interest.
For further information, see www.drugequality.org