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 246.

    @189. Tanglewood
    Your suggestion is stupid and unproportional. Only cannabis can be detected for long period of time, long after all its effects worn off. All other drugs are detectable for couple days. How would you define drug? Would you fire all people that drink tea or coffee, or someone on paracetamol too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.


    I'll ignore the zero tolerance rubbish and point out that clubs are raided regularly (more to address dealing and to hit quotas). I'll also point out that ectasy is also statistically very safe (when not in the hands of drug gangs) & leads you into another grey area when talking about clubland drugs such as ketamine, speed, ectasy, etc. Things are not as black & white as you think

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    Apologies, I forgot to include the word fatally. My mistake.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    :227 - we're not debating the merits of drugs. We're debating the merits of the law on drugs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.

    234 Space Olympics
    Up to a few years ago, I smoked dope all my life. When I had my first spliff, an ounce of black hash was £6, so you'll understand how long ago I started. In all those years I witnessed more than one poor slob ODing on cannabis. It's probably never going to kill you, but the physical affects are quite severe.
    So, yes it is possible to overdose on cannabis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    Someone should tell Gideon he could charge a duty on weed. Maybe then he'd change his tune.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    @223 armia

    It doesnt work - Check out the USA!!!

    That is why they have gone the other way and started to decriminalise the soft drugs.

    The user is being punished for a victimless crime.

    The barons are who the police should be chasing - They are the people who kill for it, not us the end user

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    @233 armia
    Yes, that's the answer! Crack down harder on people who aren't causing you an harm, that'll teach them, to have fun in ways you don't approve of!

    Seriously, what gives you the right to punish people for this? Especially in light of the fact that we know that these laws of prohibition cause further harm to all parties. You cannot stop this, and you're wrong to keep trying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    @212 laughingman "health problems caused by excessive use would affect far more people if they were freely available!" your statement contradict what scientific experts have to say about it. "find it tiresome when users always compare it to alcohol" I bet you find it tiresome to be pointed out that you are plain wrong. Prohibition is waste of money just read the article again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.


    The war on drugs has for years been trying and failing to catch the Mr. Big's. If end users were given harsher punishments it would kill off demand. When was the last time there was a drug raid at a night club?

    One last year in Manchester.

    Everyone who hadn't already necked all their pills did so. Those who were dealing obviously dumped the bags on the floor.

    One successful raid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    It bewilders me as to why scientists keep doing these studies. Our governments never pay them any attention, just as they consistently ignore public support on the legalisation of softer drugs. It must be really soul-destroying being asked to provide yet another study and knowing that it will be discarded unless it agrees with the pearl-clutching minority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    Decriminalise or not, legalise or not, mankind has been using intoxicants since we first stood upright, and will continue to do so. It's in our nature, Humans like being inebriated.
    So I'm going to ignore all this chuntering, like I did the last time this issue popped up.
    Pass me the skins.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    The trouble with all of this "drugs" talk, is that it's a number of substances with varying effects on a user's health being tarred with the same brush.

    Cannabis being lumped in with the likes of heroin and crack is utter nonsense. It is not possible to overdose on cannabis.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    The war on drugs has for years been trying and failing to catch the Mr. Big's. If end users were given harsher punishments it would kill off demand. When was the last time there was a drug raid at a night club?

  • Comment number 232.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    @227 Alan

    Drugs do not all work that way. Nor do they all destroy family life any more than your father having the odd pint did. Perhaps you should stop making authoritative statements on things you clearly know nothing about.

    If not you, think for the others in your life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    It seems ridiculous, even bordering on criminal that during this time of economic hardship, a time where the sick, disabled and poor are having their meager incomes cut that politicians continue pouring billions of £££ into this phony war. An evidence based approach is long overdue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    #193..It's always the way with this debate,all the anti cannabis comments come from those who have no experience of it,and all the support comes from those who've used it for years and know the truth.
    I've been smoking dope for 43 years and I'm still here,all my drinker friends have died.
    The only real opinions you can accept are from the users and not from those who are brainwashed by the press.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    Comparing it with alcohol is tiresome, but it puts it into context for others who have never used the drug and insist it is the devil.
    I have seen many people do both to excess and not once have any of them been hospitalised for smoking cannabis, but I can't say the same for when they got drunk.
    spend a day smoking, walk home fine.
    Spend a day drinking.... how did you get home???

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Why do you think they call it Dope?

    Drugs are rather pointless. Sure, you may get relaxed, but you will crave another lot, making you more cranky, so you need more drugs - it turns nto a vicious cycle.

    If not you, think for the others in your life.


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