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 166.

    Every year or so this debate comes up with evidence based research provding sound reasons for a review of the drugs laws.

    However, it's always met with the same response of governments terrified to listen in the fear that they are seen by the right-wing press as promoting heroin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.


    Ignorance is the cancer of society

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    @162 krokodil

    Even if that were true, so what? We shouldn't take steps to make our society better, instead ploughing ever more money into some sort of failing crusade?

    'cos that's what we're doing and it's not making life better for the 'scum' or for fine, upstanding pillars of society like yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    162. krokodil
    The irony being that some cancers can be treated with drugs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    Drug users are scrum. Drugs are the cancer of society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    @138 gfcutler

    Er... that wouldn't be hemp rope you're planning to use, would it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 160.

    @ 125 JustAThought1

    Not all drug users are wasters, there are a lot that still get up in the morning and go to work and pay taxes.

    If experts who researched it for 6 years say its not bad then how can you make such a judgement????

    I think you are coming across as a total idiot, but i can only go by what i have read.........as are you with your views... which is wrong, i am sure you agree.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    In the same way that politicians are an anathema to all of us, drug legalisation is an anathema to a politician.

    Sense and sensibility does not enter into the equation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    I always find it funny when scientists, experts in their field, recommend changing a law based on solid evidence, and 'The Home Office' completely ignore it and decide to stay their course.

    It always reminds me of the deckchairs being hastily re-arranged, all the while the ship is sailing closer to the iceberg.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    125. JustAThought1
    It's only a problem to you because you think it costs you to "clear up the mess". As long as it is illegal, this will always be the case because you will never eradicate the use of drugs. Make it legal, tax it and then you won't have to worry about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    What? So you are saying because you use maths, everyone around our age (I am not older than you btw, so ouch!) is good at it? Yeah, don't let stats get in your way.
    My point is, the problem here is possession of an illegal sustance, NOT whether it is legal or not. So before we can make it legal, possession will always be illegal. Agreed?

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    @89. JustAThought1

    Wow. Even my dad isn't as reactionary as you. Please tell me you're a 70+ Daily Mail reader, because if you're not, you seriously need to get stoned.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    In Portugal drug offences were changed from a criminal offence, 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 for them, don't see why it wouldn't work in the UK

  • Comment number 153.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    140 Cheddy
    You have to ask yourself WHY drugs are illegal. Simply because something was made a criminal offence in the past, doesn't justify it still being so.
    You've clearly displayed you're not capable of critical thought, stop believing you're more intelligent than everyone born into the younger generation (speaking as a 20 year old computer programmer who uses maths every minute of the day...)

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    Seem to be a lot of psycho hangmen hanging around. Perhaps they are better with rope than words.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    Drug use and prostitution should be legalised, taxed and permitted only in designated places where health risks can be minimised. Education regarding use of drugs and sexual conduct with prostitutes should be widespread. Driving these issues underground puts everyone at risk of harm.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    @138 gfcutler - What would fill you with so much hate that you'd be willing to kill for it? You are seriously messed up in the head!

    @140 Cheddy - You employ circular reasoning there. Why must they be illegal? Secondly you educate with the truth about drugs, scare tactics categorically do not work. The truth is that a lot of the hysteria about drug use is just that, hysteria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Why is this such an issue? If youare thick, dumb or stupid enough to want to take harmful drugs the please do so. It's your body and life so abuse it as you wish.
    Only 1 proviso. no FREE medical help if things go wrong.
    It would cut crime immediately if all drugs were "legal".

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Our neighbours smoked cannabis, turned psychotic and made death threats. We moved. Of course they would have been much worse to live next to if they hadn't been smoking such a wonderful health enhancing peace promoting substance.
    And it stinks.


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