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 206.

    Lets not debate the harmfulness or otherwise of Canabis again. It's not the issue. The issue is what good does the legal war on drugs actually do in the end,

    Some people can't get passed the view of drugs are bad, regardless of anything else.
    They need to take their head out of the sand and look at the bigger picture.
    THE WAR IS NOT WORKING!! So we need to do something about it!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    @189 Tanglewood

    Why would you deny people treatment due to use of alcohol or tobacco? Their extra taxes pay for a quarter of the NHS budget. Tax drugs and we can funnel that cash to mitigating any problems they cause.

    Hell, drugs cause far, far, less damage than booze or fags anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    174. FatPeace And too many ageing lefties base their views on cannabis on the weak stuff they smoked in Uni 40yrs ago not realising that today's turbocharged 'skunk' induces psychosis.
    And too many ignorant, self-righteous people base their views on the nonsense printed by the Daily Mail. There is currently no evidence that cannabis induces psychosis, just that a correlation exists.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    @201 Why would users be driven to possess larger amounts? If something is legally readily available then why would anyone hoard?

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    The government doesn't even need to change to law to allow adults to use cannabis. All they have to do is tell the Home Office, Police and courts to treat ALL drugs according to the harm they cause, exactly as it is written in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
    Even the right-wing Dutch government is starting to realise that trying to stop people using cannabis only causes more problems!
    Normalise now

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    Stupid idea. Once 'small amounts' are tolerated, pressure will grow to increase them. Meanwhile users will feel emboldened to possess larger amounts. It's the 'give them an inch & they'll take a mile' syndrome. This is exactly what happened with petty vandalism, graffiti and antisocial behaviour. Too much tolerance, so it gets worse & leads to more serious crime. Zero tolerance is the only answer

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    It is unlikely that cannabis will ever be legalised because the biggest losers would be the brewing and distilling industries, which is why they "employ" so many MPs as directors, consultants or advisers etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    @182 fatpeace i dont think my kids will 'need' to take ANY mind altering substance, but if they chose to do so, they will be educated on the scientific facts.
    i take it youve never had a drink in your life and your kids will be the same, as THAT mind altering substance is far more damaging to society AND cost £2bn in hospital admissions in england alone

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    The problem is, the correct thing to do and the perceived 'right' thing to do are not always the same. For example, experts say that the 50p tax band reduces tax revenues from high earners but abolishing it is a political hot potato. Same with legalising cannabis. The experts, and an informed section of the nation, know it makes sense. But there is a large vocal ignorant vote-casting section.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Lets not debate the harmfulness or otherwise of Canabis again. It's not the issue. The issue is what good does the legal war on drugs actually do in the end, and what is the point in criminalising addiciton to some drugs and not others as is the current case. Sadly it all comes down to political momentum. Inevitably we will see the end of prohabition one day but not for many years to come.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    The government makes shed loads of money from the revenue they charge on alcohol, which can kill you, and tobacco, which can kill you.
    How much money would they make if they legitimised, and then taxed cannabis? Which won't kill you, (not directly, anyway).

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    It would certainly appear that successive governments are completely deaf to the advice of experts on this issue... whether it's a couple of leading professors or a whole scientific review!
    I wonder what they are so worried about? A majority seem to think drug laws should be looked at afresh and reformed! A few Daily Mail readers perhaps? Lost tax on booze? Tax the weed then! (but not too much!!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    Also might I add, when I was an alcoholic I did many things I shouldnt have done, and when I chose to only have a few drinks...I still was ashamed of my actions, alcohol is the problem here, not cannabis! Thanks to cannabis I am now healthy, I dont drink anymore, and I dont hurt people who I love anymore! Cannabis is safe FOR OVER 18 BRAINS! So make it available to over 18s, and give the option!

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    It's easy to see which people have had experience of drugs and which haven't. I'm seeing the same ignorant comments that are always used by the uneducated which have been lifted directly from the media.

    My question is would you be so forthright in commenting on other things which you have no experience of?

    Do some research instead of repeating what you've read in the mail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    I smell a rat, must be some multi-national thinking about a new product!

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    The use of cannabis shuold be permitted at home and grown at home if that is what you choose. Is it the fact that cannabis makes you happy, something that todays society (bills, politics, scandel) is rapidly taking away from the Great Britisn People. It makes you wonder if some of our great decision makers are permentally stoned, give the average person some respect to make their own decesions. x

  • Comment number 190.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    I have no problem with decriminalization. However, I would also support any employer enforcing a drug-free policy - if you turn up for work on Monday morning with detectable drugs (including alcohol) in your system your employment is terminated immediately. Likewise, I would make "free" NHS treatment dependent on evidence of non-use of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    @ armia

    "They should throw the book at them like they do in the USA. If you get sent to prison and lose your job it will send out a signal and drug use will drop."

    That must be why drug use in the USA has dropped to exactly 0%.

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    Instead of taxing the drugs and making billions they choose to fight a 'WAR ON DRUGS' which costs billions, (and doesn't work), double whammy on the taxpayer again by our astute politicians,,,,


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