Select Committee on Science and Technology

No.23 of Session 2005-06 1 March 2006



The Science and Technology Committee publishes its own independent research to help it investigate and evaluate the way the Government uses scientific evidence to develop policy on illegal drugs. The Committee's inquiry is timely given the Home Secretary's recent call for a review of the current classification system.

The research, undertaken by RAND Europe, looked at drugs in all three classifications. For Class A it examined cocaine, magic mushrooms and ecstasy. In Class B it covered amphetamines. In Class C it investigated the most commonly used illegal drug, cannabis, which was reclassified in 2002 and re-examined by the Home Secretary in January 2006.  The research also looked at the classification systems used in three other countries to provide evidence for comparative purposes.

Among the main findings from the case studies are:

  • The positioning of magic mushrooms in Class A does not seem to reflect any scientific evidence that they are of equivalent harm to other Class A drugs.

  • The gateway theory, that the use of drugs like cannabis leads on to the use of harder drugs, has little evidence to support it despite copious research.

  • The evidence surrounding the 2002 decision to downgrade cannabis was conclusive at the time; the decision by Charles Clarke in February 2006 to maintain its position in Class C followed a thorough review of the evidence.

  • Drugs are not classified on the basis a set of standards for the harm they cause. The criteria used have varied depending upon the drug in question.

Chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee, Phil Willis, said: "Since 1971 there have been several reclassifications and additions to the drugs covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act. We want to see whether the classification system as it now stands has a sound basis on evidence, and whether it is evidence rather than political expediency that is driving decisions."

"To help us reach our conclusions we felt it was important to look at the evidence on drug classification in an impartial manner. We decided to carry out our own research and commissioned RAND Europe, an independent not-for-profit policy research organisation, to look into the evidence base for the classification of drugs. We are grateful for the Report they produced and will be using it to test the rationale behind Government decisions."

 The drugs research is part of a larger inquiry by the Committee into the way the Government obtains and uses scientific advice and evidence in the development of policy.

For further information about the RAND Report, contact Lynne Saylor on [email protected] or on 01223 353329.  For any queries about the use of the report by the Committee or about the Committee's inquiry, contact Laura Kibby  on 020 7219 0718. For any other information please contact Ana Ferreira, on 020 7219 2793. Previous press notices and publications are available on our website:      

Notes to editors:

• The Report will be available from the Rand website at from 9.30am on 1st March

• This inquiry was announced on 9 November 2005 in Press Notice No 9 of session 2005-06.

• The Committee announced the commission of the Report in Press Notice No 18 of session 2005-06.  

• The Committee announced the publication of the Report in Press Notice No 22 of session 2005-06

• Under the terms of Standing Order No. 152 the Science and Technology Committee is empowered to examine the "expenditure, policy and administration of the Office of Science and Technology and its associated public bodies". The Committee was appointed on 19 July 2005.

Membership of the Committee

Mr Phil Willis (Lib Dem, Harrogate and Knaresborough)(Chairman)
Adam Afriyie (Con, Windsor)
Mr Robert Flello (Lab, Stoke-on-Trent South)
Mr Jim Devine (Lab, Livingston)
Dr Evan Harris (Lib Dem, Oxford West & Abingdon)
Dr Brian Iddon (Lab, Bolton South East)
Margaret Moran (Lab, Luton South)
Mr Brooks Newmark (Con, Braintree)
Anne Snelgrove (Lab/Co-op, South Swindon)
Bob Spink (Con, Castle Point)
Dr Desmond Turner (Lab, Brighton Kemptown)