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Drug policy governance in the UK: lessons from changes to and debates concerning the classification of cannabis under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act

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journal contribution
posted on 23.05.2016 by Mark Monaghan
Background. Drugs policy is made in a politically charged atmosphere. This is often not seen to be conducive to the ideals of evidence-based policymaking. In the UK over recent years the efficacy of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA) has been one of the most widely discussed and debated areas of UK drug policy. Since inception, the MDA 1971 has remained relatively stable with very few drugs moving up or down the scale and until recently, and with very few exceptions, there has been little public debate on the nature of the system. This changed in the run up to the cannabis reclassification in 2004 from class B to class C, through the reverse of this decision in 2009 and the fallout between the Government of the time and leading members of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Methods. Based on wide-ranging survey of the literature and secondary analysis of various official publications and academic commentaries, this paper considers what the cannabis episode can tell us about the current state of UK drug policy governance. Results. Previous research on drug policy governance has suggested that policy goals should be clearly articulated so as to avoid confusion over what constitutes evidence, decision-makers should be ‘evidence-imbued’ and there should be widespread consultation with, and transparency of, stakeholder engagement. The interpretation here is that recent changes to cannabis legislation reveal that these aspects of good governance were called into question although there were fleeting moments of good practice. Conclusion. The use of evidence in drug policy formulation continues to be bedevilled by political stalemate and reluctance to countenance radical reform. Where evidence does play a role it tends to be at the margins. There are, however, potential lessons to be learned from other policy areas but this requires a more pragmatic attitude on behalf of decision-makers.


Financial support from the UKDPC in the preparation of [an earlier version of this paper is] duly acknowledged.



  • Social Sciences


  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies

Published in

International Journal of Drug Policy






1025 - 1030


MONAGHAN, M., 2014. Drug policy governance in the UK: lessons from changes to and debates concerning the classification of cannabis under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. International Journal of Drug Policy, 25 (5), pp.1025-1030.


© Elsevier


AM (Accepted Manuscript)

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This work is made available according to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) licence. Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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