An Interactionist Perspective on Drug Regulation

This video with Professor David Nutt on the bizarre way in which drugs are (miss) classified and (miss) regulated in the UK seems to be coming from an Interactionist point of view:

In the video Professor Nutt discusses how authorities inappropriately label/ categories certain drugs as harmful when really they are not and then harsher than appropriate penalties follow as a result.

Firstly he reminds us that categorisation (labelling) by authorities is fundamental to the way we understand and manage drugs – for a start there are two types – drugs for medical use (legal) and then illegal drugs.

Illegal drugs are controlled and categorised by the ‘misuse of drugs act’, which Nutt describes as being made up by a group of people based on what they thought.

The act classifies drugs into categories A, B or C. Less harmful drugs are in category C while more harmful drugs are in category A.

  • Class A includes drugs such as heroine and ecstasy
  • Class B includes cannabis
  • Class C includes Steroids, for example,

Over the last 20 years politicians have got more involved in categorising drugs based on their desire to be seen as being tough on drugs and thus tough on crime, and Professor Nut believes certain drugs have been mis-categoriesed.

For example, the medical evidence suggests that Ectasy is not a particularly risky drug, but government officials have put it in category A, along with the highly addictive and really harmful heroine and cocaine.

As a result, people caught with Ecstasy receive harsher penalties than they should based on the relative harm the drug does, just because of the whim of government.

In fact they often face harsher penalties just based on the categorisation – because Judges tend to be more lenient handing out punishments to Heroine users precisely because the later is more addictive while Ectasy is not.

So we have a situation where people are being punished for using recreational drugs with little harmful consequence associated with the drug itself.

A more systematic classification system

Nutt has worked with medical experts to produce a new classification system for drugs based on nine categories of harm, outlining several different harms which drugs do, both to the individual and society.

There is only data for some of these measurements, but for the data that exists Alcohol comes out on top.

Alcohol is the most common reason for deaths in men under 50, for example.

If you look at the individual only, Crack Cocaine and Crystal Meth come out on top, but because alcohol is so widely used once we factor in social harms it comes out as the most harmful

Why isn’t Alcohol regulated by the misuse of drugs act?

The fact that alcohol is not harmed is a huge anomaly – and the reasons it is not controlled is political and economic – the drinks industry makes a fortune and so does the government through taxes.

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This should be a useful addition for any student studying the Crime and Deviance module.

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