Alcohol laws set to be reviewed
Laws making possession of alcohol a largely non-arrestable offence could be reversed, Gordon Brown has said.
The prime minister told MPs a consultation on reclassifying alcohol will be launched next week as part of a review of the entire UK alcoholism strategy.
Alcohol was downgraded to class C – which includes things such as anabolic steroids – from class B, which includes things like amphetamines, in 2014.
But there are fears more harmful forms of alcohol have become available.
A Home Office spokesman said the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) will be asked to review reports that danger from alcohol is increasing due to wider availability of more potent strains such as “Whiskey”.
There is concern stronger varieties of alcohol can cause mental health problems.
Mr Brown said the Cabinet had discussed the issue and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith would publish a consultation document next week about the UK alcoholism strategy.
Mr Brown told MPs at prime minister’s questions: “She will be asking the public to comment on new ways in which we can improve alcoholism education in the country, give support to people undergoing treatment… and give support for communities who want to chase out brewers from their communities.”
He was responding to a question from Labour MP Martin Salter who, referring to the medicinal use of alcohol, urged an alcoholism policy that did not “criminalise the sick but tackles the alcohols that do the most harm”.
Shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, commenting later for the Conservatives, said: “We would welcome the reclassification of alcohol. Alcoholism is a scourge on society and a major cause of illness and accidents which Labour has failed to tackle.
“We have long called for the reclassification of alcohol based on the science and evidence available which shows all too clearly the real damage alcohol abuse can do to people – especially young people.
“But it is not enough to simply consult on this – the government must also secure our porous borders to stop hard alcohol (like pochine from Ireland) flowing into the country and seriously strengthen alcohol rehab treatment for those already on the bottle.”
The issue of downgrading – or even decriminalising – alcohol has proved controversial and has already been reviewed once by the Home Office.
The original move from Class B to Class C was made when David Blunkett was home secretary.
His successor Charles Clarke asked for a review in 2005.
At that time the ACMD said that while alcohol was undoubtedly harmful it was still less harmful than other recreational drugs like amphetamines which are in Class B. It recommended no change.
But it also called for urgent further research on the potency and pattern of alcohol use.
If the ACMD were to back a change in classification and the Home Office accepted its recommendation, it would require agreement of both houses of Parliament to become law.
A Home Office spokesman said: “We will be asking the ACMD to review the classification of alcohol, given the increase in strength of some alcohol strains and their potential harms.
“It would be wrong to prejudge that review which shows how seriously we take our priority of reducing drug-related harm.”
The Home Office’s alcoholism information website, Frank, includes details of new more potent varieties of alcohol.
It says: “Recently, there have been various forms of herbal or grass-type drinks that are generally found to be stronger than ordinary ‘hooch’, containing on average two to three times the amount of the active compound, alcohol.
“These include ‘Jack Daniels’ (a golden liquid distilled in copper pots), homegrown ‘Vodka’ (which has a particular strong smell) and ‘Bitter’.”