Ist November 1968
Dear Home Secretary,
I have much pleasure in sending you and your colleagues, the Secretary of State for Social Services and the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Report on Cannabis prepared by the Hallucinogens Sub-Committee of the Advisory Committee on Drug Dependence. The Report is submitted for consideration, with the complete endorsement of the Advisory Committee. subject to the minor reserva-tions mentioned below.
Experience of cannabis within the United Kingdom has hitherto been too limited for comprehensive assessment. The Committee wish to pay tribute to the authors of the report for the many hours and painstaking study each contributed.
We do not pretend, however, that the Report can be regarded as final and definitive. On the contrary, as is made plain in the Report, there is a grave and urgent need for further expert study of all aspects of cannabis use and its consequences for the individual and society.
We think that the adverse effects which the consumption of cannabis in even small amounts may produce in some people should not be dismissed as in-significant. We have no doubt that the wider use of cannabis should not be encouraged. On the other hand, we think that the dangers of its use as commonly accepted in the past and the risk of progression to opiates have been overstated, and that the existing criminal sanctions intended to curb its use are unjustifiably severe.
The Sub-Committees recommendations are clearly stated in paragraph 101 of the Report and fall into five main groups of research (recommendations (I) and (2)); recasting of the general drugs legislation (recommendation 3)); amendment of the existing law relating to cannabis (recommendations (4) (9), (12)); synthetic cannabinols (recommendation (11)); and a review of police powers of search and arrest in relation to drug offences generally (recommendation 10)). In sum they represent a plea for the use of cannabis to be judged more realistic-ally in our codes of law and social behaviour, in the light of our present under-standing and pending the further studies that are necessary. These recommendations do not in any way run counter to the obligations to control cannabis assumed by H.M. Government as a Party to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs 1961.
The Advisory Committee has accepted recommendation (10) and intends to undertake as soon as possible a review of the present powers of arrest and search in relation to drug offences. We hope that you and your colleagues will feel able to accept the remaining recommendations and to initiate the appropriate legislative and other action that their implementation demands.
I should now mention reservations to the Report. Those made by individual members of the Sub-Committee need no elaboration on my part. Miss Murphy sympathises with the reservation made by Mr. Schofield to paragraphs 85 to 90 and regrets the proposal to retain imprisonment as a possible penalty for minor first offences. She suggests that on summary conviction unlawful possession, sale or supply of cannabis should be punishable in the case of a first offence with a fine not exceeding S100; and for any subsequent such conviction or any conviction on indictment the penalties should be those recommended by the Sub-Committee. The Committee is generally of the view that imprisonment is no longer an appropriate punishment for those who are unlawfully in possession of a small amount.
The Committee has carefully reviewed the problem of trafficking in the light of the reservations expressed by Mr. Brodie and Mr. Schofield. The dilemma is that a maximum penalty on indictment for unlawful possession which might be expected to deter a large-scale trafficker would have to be inordinately larger than the harmfulness of the drug itself would justify. The Sub-Committee felt that if possession with intent to use and possession with intent to supply could not be distinguished in law, the penalties for unlawful possession should be matched more obviously to the known harmfulness of the drug than to the potential profitability of large-scale professional trafficking. Dr. Bannister, Miss Hobkirk and Dr. Gibson wish fully to associate themselves with Mr. Brodie. Other members of the Advisory Committee would be disposed to favour a some-what higher penalty on indictment than that proposed in paragraph 89 but do not consider that the matter can be determined without review of the corresponding penalties for other drugs; the majority of us endorse the recommendation of the Sub-Committee.
In conclusion, may I add that in the Advisory Committees view general publication of the Sub-Committees Report would make a valuable contribution towards a more informed understanding of the problem of cannabis. We earnestly recommend to you and your colleagues that the Report should be published as soon as possible.
SECTION I Introduction
SECTION II Cannabis and its Clinical Features
SECTION III Cannabis in the United Kingdom
SECTION IV Social Aspects of Cannabis use
SECTION V A Comparison of Cannabis and Other Drugs
SECTION VI General Conclusions and Recommendations
APPENDIX 1 Cannabis A review of the International Clinical Literature by Sir Aubrey Lewis
APPENDIX 2 History of the Development of International Control
APPENDIX 3 World Health Organisation Appraisal of Cannabistype Dependence
APPENDIX 4 Alphabetical list of Witnesses
APPENDIX 5 Pharmacology of Cannabis
APPENDIX 6 Summary of Statutory Provisions for the Control of Drugs in the United Kingdom
Hashish Fudge - The Times Advertisement and the Wootton Report, by Steve Abrams
Extract from 'The Strange Case of Pot' by Michael Schofield (Penguin, 1971).
Schofield was a social psychologist who sat on the Wootton Committee and, dismayed by its reception, which led to the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Act, he subsequently published this book.