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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  • Comment number 66.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    What worries me is the likes of Scientology getting in on the act to make a fast buck with their unproven drug rehabilitation programmes. This will be a Tom Cruise size costs for snake oil treatments. !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    Anyone who uses drugs is stupid, laws (especially drugs laws) are there to protect the stupid people from themselves. Yes it costs money to enforce and yes it is difficult to enforce but it is the right and moral thing to do. It would be far easier to let stupid people drink and drug themselves to death but its not right.

    Legalising things costly to enforce is the first step on a slippery slope.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    All or nothing is the only sensible way forward here. EG if someone has 10gms on them he gets off, if someone has 10.01 gms he gets prosecuted. Wherever there is a line there is a 'law is an ass' situation. How will this dovetail with drivers UTI of drugs - will 'only a small' amount get you off?? This is a stupid compromise - we need leadership with guts to sort out drug abuse - not this nonsense

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    The sad thing about drugs users is - they never admit they have a problem or that the substance They use is dangerous is any way - they cannot understand why it should not be legal to use the substance of their choice... because they are addicted.

    If you want to take a drug you have used before and cannot desist, you are addicted, no matter what that drug is.

    I know people addicted to cannabis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    The drugs trade makes ‘very evil men’ very rich, at the cost of millions of people, whose lives and that off their families are destroyed by their addiction. Not to mention the victims of muggings that fund their selfish habit. By loosening the law on small quantities, it will only be the beginning a new era for the trade that will see an increase in the number of ruined lives.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Once again, the government is willing to waste £billions more of taxpayers money.. ignoring sound, scientific advice in favour of political objectives.. there's a surprise(!)

    The fact is, if alcohol was introduced for the first time, today, it would be a Class A drug. So obviously, the government need the revenue from alcohol tax to waste on their drugs policy...

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    I agree with No 53 - anything that helps give Millionaires more tax cuts has to be right!!!!! What a joke this 'government is'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Playing devil's advocate for a minute, if we decriminalize drug possession then how do we stop people from using them in public places? Would you be happy with someone snorting cocaine in a cinema, or injecting heroin on a bus, or smoking cannabis in a theme park? Maybe we can keep separate laws to prevent that but it would be a lot harder to police if you can't stop people carrying drugs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    @41 armia

    Because throwing the book at people in the US has eliminated all drug use, right?
    Because they don't have a huge problem with crystal meth?
    Because they don't still buy so much cocaine that there are civil wars over the profits from running the stuff all through south and central America?

    Yeah, throwing the book at people REALLY WORKS!

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    3 Minutes ago

    Living near drug users is horrible. They aren't harmless people who keep themselves to themselves. They are antisocial trouble makers that cost their neighbors their peace of mind and the nation a considerable amount in law and order offences, health care and vandalism.


    And how does that differ from alcoholics?

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Who has the right to say what I am allowed to put into my body?

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    @43Chorley Lass - what do you think? That everyone who gets stoned immediately goes out to drive their cars and look after babies? I'm a father, a driver, have a very respectable, full time professional job and I regularly use cannabis. Under no circumstances would I think it ok to go a drive with my daughter while under the influence. . There's such a thing as responsibility you know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    I would have thought that this government would be all for a free for all on drugs

    After all it’s well-known that all addicts are just unemployed plebs; think of all the money that they could use for Millionaires tax cuts

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    I hate that canabis users are tarred with the same brush as a cocaine or heroin addict.
    The odd puff on a joint does NOT stop you working and being a productive member of society. I have the odd smoke, have a full time job and have bought up 4 children (same father) by myself to also become productive members of society. NONE of them smoke at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    I disagree. I work with homeless young people and low level using often becomes low-level dealing when money is short. Friends share their stash, loan or borrow money and drugs and then run up debts with bigger dealers. Violence follows. If anything I think the financial penalties should be higher but it should be simple - like a speeding fine

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Decriminalisation or legalisation will hurt the large scale drug dealers - government, intelligence-services, and large banking corporations like HSBC who have been fined for doing so, so don't expect any Tory or Labour government to take this route while they're being paid and controlled by these puppet masters.

    Much like prohibition in the 1930s USA caused crime, this is a no brainer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Governments are against drugs because when you have a population who use drugs regularly the hidden dangers become unacceptable.

    Do you think a person with recreational drugs in their system should-

    drive vehicles? operate machinery? work with children or vulnerable people? work as a doctor? dentist? emergency services? electrian? etc etc

    We have to ensure there are sober peope doing many jobs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    How can alcohol be legal, with the known amount of problems it has and causes over drugs, which have little known draw backs? I wonder how they think it through:

    Causes liver and kidney damage
    Can cause brain damage
    Can cause cancer
    Can severely impair mental state
    Causes aggression

    Okay let's keep it legal.

    May cause psychosis, though not proven.

    Ban it, and ban it now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Living near drug users is horrible. They aren't harmless people who keep themselves to themselves. They are antisocial trouble makers that cost their neighbors their peace of mind and the nation a considerable amount in law and order offences, health care and vandalism. Solving drug users' problems is one problem - mitigating the damage they cause to their neighbors and to the state is another.


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