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 86.

    But if the drugs and their suppliers were regulated and controlled you wouldn't have any drug dealers. And the police would have a lot more time on their hands to deal with the real nuisances. And the tax raised would be huge. And the Taliban wouldn't be fighting to keep control of the poppy trade. Frankly the war on drugs has been lost and the only winners are the criminal underground.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    why should we give in?should we stop prosecuting all criminals because crime is so high?education is the way forward,showing kids its not clever.this isnt helped by celebrities etc making drugs look glamerous.kate moss still getting work after being exposed as a coke head?criminals might be thick but thyre not stupid.if they were going to get a good hiding long prison time, they would soon stop

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    Drugs will always be around even if the government were to increase the sentences for possession (some say they should throw away the key but they're just being idiots). Even if it were decriminalised or legalised, there will still be a black market to undercut the government taxes on it like cigarettes today. More education is needed about all drugs (incl. alcohol) and their consequences.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    You have to laugh at the way those condeming all (currently) illegal drug use as harmful if not devstating for all concerned on the bais of someone they know/live near - how come you aren't also all tarring all alcohol users with the brush of the drunkard who beats his wife & kids/gets in fights in the town centre on Firday night etc...???

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    @68 Global yawning. What an utterly terrible argument. 'Cannabis stinks, so it should still be illegal'. Try formulating a decent argument for your case before posting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    114 NEW drugs since 2009. We don't know the long term effects on the body, on mental health and many of these start as 'legal' highs. It would be legal to snort the contents of an AA battery up your nose but few would try it, but with many such drugs this is what users are pretty much doing- can you even imagine the impact if posessing a small amount of these drugs became legal?

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    @64 Just A Though

    So are things with equal harm profiles also stupid? Like horseriding, skydiving, SCUBA etc? Should we ban those for people's own good too? And maybe everyone should have to wear a helmet at all times.

    Face it, you've made a moral judgement that drug use is wrong, despite lack of evidence, and you're determined to use your moral stance to control others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    As this government is obsessed with cutting costs, let's put the arguments in terms they can understand (rather than evidence that convinces ordinary folk): In legalising personal drug use, you not only save on police time, the justice process and keeping people in gaol, you also have the opportunity to levy tax on drug purchases... and people without criminal records find it easier to get work!

  • Comment number 78.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    What is the problem with these drugs? Is it that they're inherently dangerous, or dangerous because the law results in the only sources being criminals who don't care about anything except making money or feeding their own habit? A well designed and enforced licensing scheme could deal with the latter and save hospital time and enforcement costs, and bring in taxes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    The sad thing about reading these posts is the amount of ignorance being displayed by the non-drug users.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    The UK Drug Policy Commission panel members, may be entitled to their opinion, do not live near a drug dealers house and have not been woken up at 3:30am by junkies looking for some poison to inject into their veins.

    This is one of those obviously sensible suggestions, which in theory should work, but in practice does not solve anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Great idea! And while we're about it, let's decriminalise burglary so long as the offender only steals items worth less than, say, a hundred quid. No point saddling them with a criminal record for something so minor.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    My next door neighbours Son appears to have anticipated this with His very own little weed cottage industry

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    @21 There is a difference between drug use and drug abuse. Not everyone who enjoys a pint ends up an alky.

    In addition, I cant think of a single substance that wouldnt be safer legalised - even heroin would be safer if legal, regulated and prescribed by a doctor

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    The BBC have chosen one small recommendation from the report as the headline and now we have a debate about the legalisation of cannabis. The reports recommendations are a lot deeper than relaxing the criminal sanctions for personal use.

    It's worth a read as there are some good common sense recommendations included in there. The Government of course are not interested in common sense...

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    Decriminalisation is weak and does nothing to stop the unregulated market that sellers currently enjoy. Whilst removing the criminal element for users who pose no problem to society, such a stance still fails them as contaminated/cut product is still rife.

    What is needed is full scale legalisation with regulation, alongside a campaign of education so people can choose for themselves like adults.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    I've always held the view that, so long as what you're doing in no way disrupts the lives of others, anything you do to yourself should be left entirely up to you and not regulated by the law. What right does the government have to determine what a person does to only themselves? Make sure everyone is properly educated (in a non-scaremongering way) on drug use but then leave it up to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    We can argue till the cows come home about alcohol being more damaging than cannabis. What is a fact is cannabis absolutely stinks.

    There are people in my apartment block that smoke it, and the stench it causes in communal areas is disgusting. I've never experienced the same problem in the complex with alcohol...

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    @41 Armia

    A lot of USA states HAVE decriminalised cannabis use, they have shops you can go and buy it.
    The Likes of California, Colorado, Alaska, to name a few.
    They have realised its easier to allow the use soft drugs to enable them to deal with the harder, more dangerous drugs.
    So, yes, we should be more like the USA in that respect!!


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