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 106.

    Anything you can find growing outside should be legal, or we risk acting like Cnut. Sell it in supermarkets and tax it. Please treat intoxication as an aggravating factor in sentencing since people *intend* to reduce their ability to be responsible for their actions and please also further tighten up protection from the risks of smoke inhalation. I look forward to quieter weekend nights.

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    I'm largely anti-drugs but I am pro-choice. For all our freedoms and liberties I'm surprised that the government does not deem us intelligent enough to make that decision for ourselves.

    Generally it seems sentences don't stop people taking drugs as much as stop them while in prison, then when many get released they have a criminal record, find it harder to get work and resent the legal system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    96. You can say what you like, even with decriminalisation, drug use is morally wrong. You may never get to the point where the moral issues of drug use mean anything to you, but keep trying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Alcohol causes more deaths each day than terrorism has in a century. And 99% of drug-related deaths are caused by alcohol and tobacco. When will we realise that spending billions to steer the public's propensity for drug use towards the most harmful drugs is immoral and, frankly, insane?

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    @58 Ben

    You cant drink alcohol in the street, or on a bus, so why should the police treat legal drug taking any different to alcohol????

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    I can't believe there's still "not enough evidence". All you have to do is look at the currently legal drugs in this country, the harm to the user, the harm to society and harm to the countries economy. Alcohol is a MUCH MUCH more harmful substance than most illegal drugs, but because it is legal, the drug is used to benefit the country's economy and can arguably benefit society. You do the maths.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    And notice the govt spokesman on Radio 4 had not read the report. Shows how much they care about evidence as opposed to innate prejudice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    55. maskedgrappler
    Who has the right to say what I am allowed to put into my body?
    Technically speaking using drugs isn't a crime (unless you're driving etc). Its possessing them prior to use which is the crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Some woman on News 24 speaking about the issue....she didn't look or sound like she'd ever used any drugs.....what a waste of airtime.....'kids should be educated'..(duh!)...'skunk is harmful'..(duh!)....'some legal highs are dangerous'..(duh!)...what a balanced opinion.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.


    I think you'd be surprised how many drugs you consume on a daily basis. Just because a group of them are illegal, doesn't mean they're in any way similar and can be generalised. That's a very dangerous and selfish view to have, preventing millions of people in physical and mental anguish from having access to the medicine they need.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    @89 JustAThought1

    You've just clearly demonstrated your ignorance.

    ALL of those things are problems that occur due to the legal status of the substances, not the substances themselves.

    Those of us who actually have active brains and think about this situation utterly despise YOU for perpetuating all the evils you describe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    If money grew on trees, wouldn’t we grow that tree? Cannabis would boost the economy due to taxation but it will also have a huge impact on money saved due to less people being prosecuted. We live in the age of cannabis prohibition and if we want new ways to boost the economy we need to start thinking outside of the box.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    It's about time the government took control of Cannabis & regulate the sale with age restrictions. People will no longer be interested in these new ALT highs as Cannabis is a more safe, enjoyable recreational (plant/herb) with many medicinal effects, strains to choose from - one strain of Cannabis will help you sleep while another will help you get up&go..Its the only one that's good for society

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    I support decriminalisation and I am a retired Police Officer,so stereotypes aren't all they are made out to be.
    Mind you I could do without the permanent smell of skunk wafting through the windows and under the door from my neighbours very own cottage industry.

    Their dog always has a smile on his face though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    At least canabis is 'natural'!

    How many of you will happily pump 'chemically produced' drugs into your systems? Do any of you look at the reasearched side effects when you take these 'prescribed' drugs? . . . . . I doubt it

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.


    Er, they're called 'legal highs' because they're, yknow, legal?

    Also, can we get figures on how many have used such legal highs and how many direct deaths have occured by usage?

    If you guessed "less than alcohol" - you're a winner!

    Seriously though, there is an argument for proper research and testing on such chemicals, but the dogma against drugs permists such crazy ideas.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.


    I disagree. The sad thing about this article is the clear number of druggies we law abiders have to put up with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    80. Yes i've made a moral judgement that drug use is wrong. Its not just the end user, its organised crime to produce, buy and control drugs. Its addicts draining the life out of this country. Its some end users who steal for their drug money. The whole thing stinks and is morally wrong. You can defend it all you like but those of us with intelligence and morals know what is right and despise you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    Legalise Cannabis for 21+ Now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    These people are experts in their field, stop being such bigots believing your opinions are more accurate than theirs. I'm sick and tired of politicians and the public believing they know more about a subject than those who devote their lives to researching it.


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