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Dangerous Drugs

Part of Supply and Appropriation (Main Estimates) (No. 3) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:49 pm on 3rd July 2019.

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Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd The Minister of State, Home Department 3:49 pm, 3rd July 2019

I am more than happy to speak to the hon. Gentleman offline about this. I am not aware of the underlying issue, but I certainly agree with him about the absolute need to proceed in this complex and extremely sensitive area on the basis of evidence. I am more than happy to have a conversation with him outside the Chamber about the Scottish question and situation, because I am not aware of that problem.

Perhaps it would be helpful if I gave some background to the recent control on these drugs and why the Government are making this amendment. We rely on independent experts, the ACMD, which first published advice in 2014 on the third generation of synthetic cannabinoids—a group of compounds, commonly referred to as Spice and Mamba, that mimic the effects of cannabis. The advice recommended that these compounds be captured by way of a generic definition as Class B drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act because of their harms and widespread availability. This followed the control of the first generation of synthetic cannabinoids in 2009 and of the second generation in 2013.

The ACMD also recommended that the compounds be placed in schedule 1 to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001, because it could not confirm any known medicinal uses at the time. Placing these compounds in schedule 1 reflects the fact that they have little or no known medicinal or therapeutic benefits in the UK, and will mean that they can be legally accessed only with a Home Office licence, which is generally issued for research or industrial purposes.

Following the ACMD’s recommendations, the changes came into effect on 14 December 2016, but shortly after their implementation, the ACMD and the Home Office were informed by representatives of the research community that the breadth of the definition meant that it captured a large number of research compounds, many of which were reported not to be synthetic cannabinoids. As a result of the broad, generic definition, research institutions needed to obtain schedule 1 licences when they may not otherwise have needed them.

The licensing process is in place to ensure a minimised risk of misuse and diversion of, and harm from, controlled drugs. However, as I am sure the House will agree, we would not wish to place substances under control and make them subject to the licensing requirements where there is no need to do so. It is therefore important that we amend the definition, which has created an additional formal regulatory burden for the research industry relating to compounds that were never intended to be controlled. To remedy this, the ACMD made a further recommendation in December 2017 that the scope of the generic definition be reduced.

The order amends the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to reduce the scope of the generic definition of the third generation of synthetic cannabinoids, so that while those compounds that have been found to cause harm are captured by it, fewer compounds are unintentionally captured. Owing to the continued harms posed by the third generation of synthetic cannabinoids, the order does not repeal the generic definition. I repeat for clarity that such compounds as those that go by the street name of Spice and Mamba will continue to be caught by the generic definition.

The order, if accepted and made, will come into force on 15 November. A further statutory instrument will be introduced via the negative procedure to make the necessary parallel amendments to the generic definition under schedule 1 of the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 and in the Misuse of Drugs (Designation) (England, Wales and Scotland) Order 2015, so that those compounds unintentionally captured will no longer require a Home Office licence for the conduct of research, as they will no longer be controlled.

I hope that I have made the case to the House for amending the generic definition of the third generation of synthetic cannabinoids so that it no longer covers a number of compounds that were unintentionally controlled. I commend the order to the Committee.