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Fifty years of the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971: the legislative contexts

Blaine Stothard (Blaine Stothard is an Independent Consultant and Writer, London, UK)

Drugs and Alcohol Today

ISSN: 1745-9265

Article publication date: 14 October 2021

Issue publication date: 7 December 2021




The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the history of relevant legislation before and after the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA).


A chronological narrative of laws and reports with concluding discussion.


That UK legislators have not made use of the evidence base available to them and have favoured enforcement rather than treatment approaches. That current UK practice has exacerbated not contain the use of and harms caused by illegal drugs.

Research limitations/implications

The paper does not cover all relevant documents, especially those from non-governmental sources.

Practical implications

The practical implications centre on the failure of consecutive governments to reflect on and review the impact of current legislation, especially on people who use drugs.

Social implications

That the situations of people who use drugs are currently ignored by the government and those proven responses which save lives and reduce harm are rejected.


The paper attempts to show the historical contexts of control and dangerousness of which the MDA is one instrument.



Thanks to Harry Shapiro for providing a copy of his book to assist in the writing of this paper. Thanks to the peer reviewers, whose comments and suggestions have been both affirming and instructive.Conflicts of interest: There are no conflicts of interest to declare.


Stothard, B. (2021), "Fifty years of the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971: the legislative contexts", Drugs and Alcohol Today, Vol. 21 No. 4, pp. 298-311.



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