Government Response to the Law Commission’s Report ‘Controlling and Regulating Drugs – a review of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975’

Published September 2011

The Associate Minister of Health has agreed that, in light of the truncated timeframes arising from the forthcoming general election and the need for further detailed policy work on many of the issues, the Government Response will be limited to in-principle decisions on the need for new legislation.

For other recommendations, such as those relating to the detail of the legislation, greater clarity about the potential impacts is required before any Government commitment can be made.  Many of the proposed changes would have flow-on effects for the justice sector which require modelling by Justice and Police on the likely cost and resource impacts.

The most urgent concern for the Government is to address problems with the regulation of psychoactive substances emerging in the burgeoning legal high market. Government has signalled its intention to introduce a regime for psychoactive substances along the lines of the regime proposed by the Law Commission.  Cabinet approval is being sought for in-principle agreement to develop a new regulatory regime to control these psychoactive substances in advance of the development of a new Misuse of Drugs Act.  Priority will be given to policy work on the options for its implementation.

Until further policy work is completed, the Ministry is unable to calculate with any accuracy the costs of establishing a regulatory regime.  There are no data on the demand for legally-available psychoactive substances.  There are also scarce data on the number of applications a regulatory regime would be likely to consider.  The Ministry has estimated that the workload of the regulator for the regime is likely to be far less than a hundred applications per annum but this figure is based on an estimation of the “legal high” market at its height of legal availability and may not reflect the true scale of future applications.

David Wood, Deputy Director-General (Acting), Policy Business Unit

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