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 146.

    In practical terms this would not work- when is a 'small amount' not a small amount? a dealer, operating near home could simply carry the legal amount, do the deal and then go home to restock to deal again and still be legal...if the Police are powerless now they'd be more so with this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    Graham is right but please include alcohol as well

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    This is just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. I believe the real solution is this: (1) Treat all drug addiction as a problem of public health, not public order; (2) provide all addicts with support, drugs and clean needles (if appropriate) as a regulated pharmacy service; (3) once that is in place, substantially increase the penalties for any remaining trafficking

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.


    Education is not the answer - you can't even teach them maths (something good for them), what chance do we have to teach them stay away from drugs if they become available?

    Why bother teaching at all eh?

    The criminalisation bunch are utterly hopeless. At best naive, at worst absolutely repugnant, but neither sect have managed to come out with a decent argument for the status quo.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    I think its a good idea like the Netherlands do, people from all over the world flock to Amsterdam for this reason, and not all drug users are lay abouts, I know a heroin addict and he works full time for the council and has done for several years, many other addicts cut peoples grass or do labouring to fund their habit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Graham F Cutler. - And if they need someone to pull the lever, they can ring me and I'll volunteer my services with a smile!

    What's you number Graham?

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    There's side effect for almost everything, so let's just leave it there.
    Drugs are illegal, hence there must be punishment for possessing drugs.
    Education is not the answer - you can't even teach them maths (something good for them), what chance do we have to teach them stay away from drugs if they become readily available?

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    @133 Political_Incorrect

    Cannabis is already pretty mainstream. Legalising it doesn't introduce a new vice, it takes an existing one out of the hands of the black market, and reduces harms (mainly from the legal establishment and/or dodgy goods) to the large number of existing users.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    I quite agree, people found guilty of illegal drug dealing or drug use should spend no more that 2 days in prison - Just long enough for the authorities to erect the gallows to swing the "poor, deprived and misguided individuals" from!
    And if they need someone to pull the lever, they can ring me and I'll volunteer my services with a smile!
    Graham F Cutler.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    @ JustAThought1

    Are you for real? they cannot honestly be your views?
    Cannabis is a natural substance, Native Americans have been smoking it in the peace pipe for hundreds of years...why do you think it is called the peace pipe?????

    Do you drink alcohol? Do you take pain killers? do you drink coffee?

    All drugs you know?...

    ....Ah, so you are a drug taker after all then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Criminalising cannabis and other drugs clearly hasn't worked in the slightest, so why would criminalising tobacco and alcohol? Regulation and education are the answers, not blind prohibition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.


    With your ranting uneducated post, you just proved my point! You are extremely ignorant of this subject. I also find you rude and offensive!

    I smoke, am educated, work full time, have bought up children, don't steal, lie, fight and consider myself to have a good set of morals. Thank you very much

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    The stupid people in this post are quite apparent.

    Keep commenting though because this has the highest comment hits I've seen for any news websites articles for such a small space of time.

    It's quite apparent that something needs to change

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    Interesting how people here excuse drugs by saying they are not quite as bad as alcohol. So how does introducing another vice which 'is not quite as bad as alcohol' into the mainstream help matters?

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    The war on drugs will never be won. Some drugs are safer and less disruptive to society than alcohol should just be legalised, quality controlled to guarantee a standard, taxed and rationed so that police resources can concentrate on harder drugs like crack and heroine. This has the added bonus of taking a huge earner out of the hands of gangsters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    In Portugal new laws introduced in 2001 meant that drug offenses were changed from a criminal offense, with prison a possible punishment, to an administrative one if the amount possessed was no more than ten days' supply of that substance.

    Works well enough for them, would work for UK too I reckon..

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    I think it's a good idea, make it a bit like the Netherlands, people come from all over the world to visit Amsterdam for that one reason. Also not all drug users are lay abouts, one of my neighbours is a heroin addict and he works with the council in a full time job and has done for years, also drug addicts round where I stay fund they're habit by grasscutting etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    Can we please have an adult debate about the UK Drug Policy?

    The governments head is so far in the sand that they wouldn't know what detrimental effects it was having on our nation if it jabbed them in the arm.

    Decriminalisation does not mean legalisation and it comes in many forms.
    The people who gain most are the "Mr Big's" not the users, not the public and not even your street dealers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    125.JustAThought1 - "......I do however have to pay taxes to clear up their mess....."

    When does your campaign against alochol start then?

    After all alcohol is not only the most damaging drug health wise, it is the most expensive too for clearing up the mess left in it's wife/child beating wake.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    We should be criminalising alcohol and tobacco not 'allowing' cannabis. Cannabis should be available as an ingredient in medicines sold in pharmacies and doctors should be able to prescribe. But there is no need to legalise smoking it although maybe it should be in a lower category than alcohol or tobacco based on it's lower dangers. Apply the Misuse of Drugs Act fairly !!!


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