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

Related Stories

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."


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • Comment number 46.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    41 armia "They should throw the book at them..." Oh dear me. They should throw the book AWAY and start again!

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Drug use in the UK is widespread and has entered social acceptance. Make it legal and tax it. But then there is still this puritanical Victorian denial thing that lives in Whitehall that refuses to accept the obvious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    If this were a story about tobacco or alcohol many of those saying that drugs should be legalised would be shouting about the damage that tobacco and alcohol do - and they are legal drugs!
    We should not relax penalties we should toughen them - no one using any stimulants should be in charge of a child or a car, full stop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Blatantly obvious and common sense. The criminalisation of young people, often jailed for tiny amounts, destroys a lot more lives and does enormously more damage to society than these drugs do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    They should throw the book at them like they do in the USA. If you get sent to prison and lose your job it will send out a signal and drug use will drop.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.


    is basically what the home office say. Never mind that drugs are available to anyone looking for them, that we criminalise people for things that do them or others little to no harm, that if we taxed and regulated them we'd take out the criminal profit and more than pay for any treatment (see booze).

    No, just keep fighting the costly war on drugs. Bound to work!

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    @ 21 Landshark
    Harder drugs should be dealt with severely, but you cannot tar all drug users with the same brush.
    Drug addicts of herion etc lie and steal, have no job and just want to feed their habit.
    a lot of cannabis users are no where near the same, most of them work every day and function like you or I.
    It is only cannabis they are talking of being dealt with more leniently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    4 Minutes ago

    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


    Try living with an alcohol abuser and you will get exactly the same behavior and will be living with the same hell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    33.AqualungCumbria - "where do they get the figures for "Drug usage is at it lowest level since records began."................."

    From the annual survery of the population (not everyone, just a representative sample)....the mthodology is as solid as it can be & whilst absolute firgures might not be 100% accurate it does track trends over time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.


    You don't have to set up a canabis farm to smoke it! One plant will do if it's for your own personal use

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Throughout my life, this has been recommended more than once.
    The government blanked it on those occasions, and they'll probably blank it again.
    So what's new?
    It takes common sense, and foresight to see that this is a sensible suggestion.
    Say no more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Of course this makes sense, but I'm not holding my breath until politicians actually base policy on evidence and professional advice...

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    where do they get the figures for "Drug usage is at it lowest level since records began."

    That is not what i see with my eyes or perhaps they are just more open about things in this day an age.

    If drug usage was receding we wouldnt see the farms and factories set up here imo....

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Professor Nutt said pretty much the same thing a couple of years ago and the Labour Government sacked him as head of the Drugs Advisory Panel.

    So I'm surprised any expert is prepared to say very much at all for fear of losing their job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I am not really pro or anti drug, people should have the right to make their own decisions on their body, afterall alcohol is far worse than most drugs and it is perfectly legal. I just do not like the thought that the grand a month I pay in tax goes to someone too lazy to work to shoot up, then again I know most of it goes to lay about drunks so might as well easy up on these guys too

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Citizens in this country are far too heavily controlled, regulated, cajoled, coerced, manipulated, pulled along by the nose, threatened, photographed, targeted and made to feel extremely guilty by the state. I welcome any move which allows people to be themselves - not the subject of someone else's absolute notions of 'right' or 'wrong'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The only winners are the moment are dealers. legalise and tax all drugs putting dealers out of business.

    The youth will always dabble with drugs, most grow out of it. I do not believe that we will have a higher addiction rate if legalised and we could make money and control purity. for me its a no brainer but it will take a goverment with guts to do this!

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I don't know why the Beeb even bothered reporting the Home Office's statement, it's such drivel. Ambitious? Hardly. They're so scared of being painted as "soft" and attached to tabloid popularism they're unable to be effective. The supply-side approach of tackling drugs through legislation has failed because "the market" they so love dictates that it's worthwhile to keep supplying them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Fine, but they need to hit the drug pushers much harder.


Page 16 of 18


More UK stories



Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.