Intended for healthcare professionals


Evidence based policy for illicit drugs

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 01 July 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c3374

'Ilicit Drugs' are a fictional prohibitionist construct

Congratulations to the author and the BMJ for talking sense about the
regulation of drug users. May I suggest that henceforth the correct legal
terminology is adopted? In my view a real problem lies with the critical
discourse itself; this is because much of it is couched in the given
prohibitionist language paradigms that are coercive and incorrect.

Previously Stephen Rolles from Transform wrote in this journal about
the 'criminalisation of drugs'. In this article the subject is 'illicit
drugs'. These expressions actually mean nothing in law or logic, although
we all know what is meant by them. It is however a vital distinction to
make - the war on drugs is not a war on objects, it is a war on some
people who use some drugs. Drugs are not declared illegal or illicit in
law at all - the law provides that property rights in some drugs (these
being ANY that cause social harm) are 'controlled'. This is quite a
different proposition to the one being fed to us that drugs are legal or

The [artificial]divide that exists between types of drug users is not
set in stone, alcohol and tobacco [users] are not exempt from the
legislation; they are [users of] drugs that are at this time not included
in the schedules because the government who administer the law choose not
to control them (quite arbitrarily). The explanation from govenment for
not controlling the most harmful drug use is because they are 'legal
drugs' with cultural / historic preferences. This explanation is legally
an entirely untenable in my opinion. The (neutral) law mandates that ANY
drug causing social harm is within the law's purview.
The inclusion of a drug as a scheduled drug does not mean that such a drug
then becomes an 'illegal drug' - this goes to the heart of the language
deception and misunderstanding.

Drugs (ie drug users), ought to be proportionately controlled to
reduce the social harm they might cause. Powers exist to make such
possible, distinguishing abuse and misuse from peaceful or amateur use,
all this being possible within the existing legislative framework. But
due to the false meme of 'illegal drugs', the law works like an on/off
switch. Drugs (and of course I mean the users & traders of drugs)
being either criminalised outright, or not so criminalised and given full
consumer protections (drinkers and smokers). This situation of the
executive making errors of law is tacitly perpetuated by the language
being adopted by most reformist groups such as Release, Transform, The
Vienna Declaration. They all make this basic error of de-personalising the
subject of regulation, and effectively accepting prohibitionist policies
as the inevitable expression of the existing law by repeating the mantra
of this conceptual and legal falsehood.

Darryl Bickler


Competing interests:
Founder member of the Drug Equality Alliance.

Competing interests: No competing interests

19 July 2010
Darryl P. Bickler
Drug Equality Alliance co-ordinator
48 Ridgeway, Leeds, LS8 4DF