Possessing small amount of drugs 'should not be crime'

A heroin user prepares a fix There are an estimated 380,000 "problem drug users" in the UK

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The penalties for drug misuse should be relaxed so that possession of small amounts would no longer be a criminal offence, the government has been urged.

The recommendation comes in a report from the UK Drug Policy Commission, which undertook six years of research.

Its detailed report concludes the UK is wasting much of the £3bn it spends each year on tackling illicit drugs.

The Home Office says drug use is falling and it does not plan to alter its approach.

The report, called A Fresh Approach to Drugs, says the annual estimated cost to England and Wales of class A drug use is £15bn.

It says that while drug use and drug problems have declined in the UK in recent years, there are still about 2,000 drug-related deaths each year and 380,000 problem drug users.

Classification credibility

Some 42,000 people in England and Wales are sentenced annually for drug possession offences and about 160,000 given cannabis warnings, it says, which "amounts to a lot of time and money for police, prosecution and courts".

The commission says giving people cautions and criminal records for having small quantities is not "proportionate" and suggests imposing civil penalties, such as fines, or drug treatment orders instead.

It also recommends individuals who grow a small number of cannabis plants should be treated leniently, to undermine organised crime networks that produce stronger types of cannabis.

However, it does not call for the decriminalisation or legalisation of most drugs.

"We do not believe that there is sufficient evidence at the moment to support the case for removing criminal penalties for the major production or supply offences of most drugs," it said.

It calls for a review of the Misuse of Drugs Act and drugs classification, which it says has "lost credibility" for many people.

It suggests technical decisions about the classification of individual drugs should be taken by an independent body, with parliamentary oversight.

The report says some key planks of government policy - including major drug seizures - have little or no impact, and some programmes in schools could even have increased the use of drugs.

It says there is "little evidence" that a recent increase in prison sentence lengths for drug production and supply has deterred dealers or affected availability.

It recommends that the main political parties should establish a cross-party forum to agree on how drug problems can be addressed "in a cost-effective and evidence-based way".

114 new drugs

Dame Ruth Runciman, the charity's chairman, said: "Over the last three decades, UK governments have done much to reduce the damage caused by drug problems.

"Needle exchanges have reduced HIV among injecting drug users to one of the lowest rates in the world. The investment in treatment for people addicted to drugs has also helped many to rebuild their lives.

"Those programmes are supported by evidence, but much of the rest of drug policy does not have an adequate evidence base.

"We spend billions of pounds every year without being sure of what difference much of it makes."

The commission also said a new approach was needed because the rapid creation of new drugs was changing the market too quickly for the traditional methods used to control it.

It says that, between 2009 and 2011, 114 new psychoactive drugs were identified in the European Union.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "While the government welcomes the UKDPC's contribution to the drugs debate, we remain confident that our ambitious approach to tackling drugs - outlined in our drugs strategy - is the right one.

"Drug usage is at it lowest level since records began. Drug treatment completions are increasing and individuals are now significantly better placed to achieve recovery and live their lives free from drugs.

"I want to take this opportunity to thank the UKDPC for its work in this area over the past six years."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Lenient on softer drugs, these tend to be non addictive, just habitual. No need for anyone on these to go and mug an old lady, it's the harder addictive drugs that make you do that.
    The report is spot on, but once again UK Government refuse to listen to the experts as they think they know best...hmmm they thought that about the ecomony, and look at it now!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    This government is so entrenched in its views on drugs that even giving a reasoned and rational argument for relaxing drug laws falls on deaf ears. Had this report claimed that £3 billion was money well spent this government would be shouting it from the rooftops and quoting the report at every opportunity. You are out of step with the rest of the country Cameron, it`s time to walk away.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    About time too !

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Taking drugs is the outcome, and supplying drugs is the problem. Society needs protection from those who supply so it is important to break the supply chain. Drug users are often addicted and criminalising then will not cure this, but because drug users tend to carry out crime for the sake of their addiction there needs to be social controls and registers. Dealers are criminals, users are victims

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Even if some now think cannabis to not as harmless as once thought, it is still, without doubt, far less harmful than alcohol... It is therefore a ridiculous situation that alcohol dealers (pubs and off licences!) are breaking no law and can peddle their wares from every street corner, with the results we are all familiar with on our high streets at weekends.
    Legalise cannabis! NO to nanny state!

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Only drug abusers could see this as a positive move. Try living with a drug abuser in your family and you will feel very differently. Our lives are a living hell with abuse, theft, lies and deceit being the tip of an iceberg that makes the rest of us live in perpetual fear of what will happen next. If anything the law should be tightened so that law-abiding citizens should not live in fear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    If you want to grow canabis purely for your own use, then that should be fine.
    Drinking and gambling do far more damage than the odd puff on a joint, but they seem to be fine legally . . . . Because of the revenue the government reap from it. They won't legalise any drugs though because it will be too difficult to 'police' on the tax front

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I agree with this I don't think legality has ever stopped anyone experimenting with drugs if they wanted too they are widley available throughout the up. Giving people a criminal record for making a bad decision on what to put in their body seems absurd to me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Another hys on a pro drugs topic.

    Boring. Lock them all up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Why don't they have a look at the drug use situation in The Netherlands ? The Dutch have a 'relaxed' approach to drug use. Find out what the result of that is and if it's good then follow it. They don't have to guess when there's an example that can be looked at just across the channel !

    But then prostitution is legal there too and it is so obvious how good that is, very low sexual crime, a fact!

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    An police officer was once on the radio boasting how they were winning the "war on drugs". His measures: purity levels are going down and prices are going up. So users don't know what they are taking (rat poisen etc) and it is costing them more. I don't think that helps anyone...

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    They should go the way of Portugal and decriminalise all drugs. It has proven to be a huge success over there with drug related crimes falling considerably as well as the amount of users

    =>And the police are desperately trying to save money to keep bobbies on the beat. Here's a way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    The government says it does not plan to alter its approach.

    Of course not, as with most of this governments’ policies, they are not based on what is best for the country or for its people, they are based on what will keep the rabid right, the blue rinse brigade and the city happy

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    I often wondered what business is it of the Governments it is if an adult chooses to take drugs.

    The war on drugs is not winnable but there are too many vested interests that never wanted to win it in the first place.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Ever since humans have been on this planet they have used drugs of one sort or another. It is in human nature to seek to use mood altering substances at various times in their lives. Making drugs illegal does absolutely nothing to stop people wanting to use them, it criminalises ordinarily law abiding people and fuels organised crime. Did we learn nothing from prohibition?

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    That kids could get a criminal record, for merely caving in to what may be quasi-normal peer group pressure, with all that means is a very bad thing.

    So this is welcome. It also makes it less cool for some.

    The real crimebuster would be for addicts to the hard stuff to be able to get it clean, under supervision on prescription though.

    Maybe the politicians are scared of the drug barons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    They should go the way of Portugal and decriminalise all drugs. It has proven to be a huge success over there with drug related crimes falling considerably as well as the amount of users.

    People should also be able to grow their own cannabis plants (within reason) in order to deal with their own habit. This would cut down on the amount of profits illegal drug dealers make.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Good. Step One in eradicating the process of endlessly governing how human beings live their lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Yet another confusing report.They're not calling for drugs to be decriminalised or to legalise them yet say deal leniently with those taking drugs.These figures speak for themselves surely?
    "2,000 drug-related deaths each year and 380,000 problem drug users".
    If,as some say,cannabis has some medical use then put it on prescription

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Incompetent group of wannabe economists and lawyers we call the Government faced with 6 years of solid scientific research by people that dedicated their lives to discipline, still they do know better what is working and what is right.

    Some things never change.


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