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 226.

    Even if you think drugs are the worst things in the world, why would you support the current policy which DOESN'T reduce demand, DOESN'T reduce availability and DOESN'T control sales to children?

    Logic and evidence not lies and ignorance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    I'm for legalising cannabis & decriminalising 'harder' drugs but I feel I must play devil's advocate and point out that using the argument of increased tax intake isn't in our favour. If legalised, many people would grow their own cannabis.
    In regards to politicians it makes me furious how somebody who has never taken drugs and has no frame of reference has the arrogance to ignore expert advice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    A staunch opponent of decriminalising drugs use, I have changed my mind. Fixed penalty type fines rather than stigmatising light users with a criminal conviction would have my approval. Society cannot however condone drug use which could lead to addiction.

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    @ 212 Laughingman. "Claiming soft drugs are safer than alcohol is a spurious argument, the health problems caused by excessive use would affect far more people if they were freely available!

    Cannabis use is higher in the UK than in Holland, and portugal, 2 legalized countries. This is a common trend. Your theory - legalizing causes more health problems - is incorrect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    The same war has been waged for 40-50 years, and the only people to the benefit are the drug barons, who have got a lot richer.

    Gov Run Scheme
    Less contamination of drugs & needles = Less cost on NHS
    Tax Legal drugs = More revenue for Gov
    Legal shops selling = Less revenue going to Drug Barons

    Cameron was open to debate before becoming PM...what happened to change that????????

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    @218 Mike from Brum - "all of them are addictive to some extent and once addicted, people do anything to feed their habit whether it be heroin, cocaine or booze."

    Those three things are highly addictve. Many other drugs are not, and you absolutely can say that some are worse or better than others, including alcohol in the spectrum. Nobody gets addicted to LSD mate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    212.laughingman - ".....the health problems caused by excessive use would affect far more people if they were freely available!"

    You don't have any hands on experience of drugs do you?

    Availability is already so widespread that any soft drug user can get their hands & consume to their heart's desire....& besides, nobody is suggesting making it freely available, you'd still have to pay.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    @216 Whilst I agree with you completely, I think it would be a risky play for them. I'm sure there are a hundred ways that Labour could spin the debate to scare the ignorant masses.

    @212 Look how much alcohol costs the country in terms of the NHS yet very few of us would consider our use of alcohol as excessive. The danger to a user is much higher on equivalent alcohol use vs cannabis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    Alcohol is the worst drug of them all. It causes so much pain and harm because it's legal; but people can still become addicted to it.. deprive their kids of food and essentials so they can get drunk.
    Drugs MAY not do any harm in small doses, but all of them are addictive to some extent and once addicted, people do anything to feed their habit whether it be heroin, cocaine or booze.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    @212 laughingman

    I'm not 100 sure why your comment got picked by the editors, you're yet again flying in the face of all evidence and research. The facts are that alcohol is physically addictive and can kill from a high dose.

    Some currently illegal drugs, particularly cannabis, do not have these properties!

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    The government gathers evidence only to ignore it, apparently they know better than qualified scientists. They're missing the opportunity to make huge amounts of tax, to regulate drugs & to eradicate associated organised crime. Alcohol & tobacco are also proven to be more harmful to society than many illegal drugs but I can't see them being banned. I shall decide for myself based on real evidence

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    @212 - evidence, please?

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    @208 Mikes

    You're probably right that saying that immediately puts people on the defensive, but it's true - many illegal drugs have a much smaller harm or addiction profile than these two. This is an unpopular thing to say because people are generally in denial about the risks alcohol and have been sold on 'drugs' being things that kill a high proportion of users (a lie).

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    - empty prisons
    - police with time for you that aren't blinkered to dealing with drunk people
    - a happier nation
    - better parties
    - safer drugs that kill less people
    - less drug use overall
    - better help for those that abuse drugs

    It can happen NOW

    Why has it not when we need the money from the taxation that is possible more than ever?
    It costs a minimum of £38k a year to keep a crim in

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    I agree that soft drug users aren't really criminals, so perhaps spot fines for possession would be better.

    I don't agree with legalising drugs like cannabis though & find it tiresome when users always compare it to alcohol.

    Claiming soft drugs are safer than alcohol is a spurious argument, the health problems caused by excessive use would affect far more people if they were freely available!

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    Here we go again. Any risk assessment on drugs would show that the current prohibition policy involves higher risks to users - 2000 deaths a year is too high. People do drugs because they want to regardless of the law - that won't change. It also increases crime and violence.

    There is no rational argument for prohibition - unfortunately the lunatics are running the asylum.

  • Comment number 210.

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

  • Comment number 209.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    I suspect a lot of the people who argue in favour of the legalisation of cannibis would get a lot more traction if they could stop attacking alcohol and tobacco. As harmful as they are, they're damn popular and addictive. An attack on them is an attack on the people dependent upon them, and it's opinions you need to sway, not science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    The only entity against which a war can be won is people, by implied definition.

    So who are they? Not drug users it would seem, so we must mean dealers.

    Legalise, but regulate, the pharmaceutical supply to registered people with a problem.

    And call it what they do in southern Europe: toxicomania.


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