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 266.

    Most drugs have side-effects. It is silly to say they are like "junk food".

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    It's true that most people who DO get into harder drugs start with softer drugs. Probably most weren't exactly teetotal either. None of this implies that those who take soft drugs WILL take harder drugs though.

    It's as silly as saying that video games make people violent purely because some violent people play video games. If every weed smoker turned into a heroin addict, we'd know by now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    #249..Oddly enough,there is some truth in your statement,when I was 15-16 most of my friends smoked cannabis,on reaching 18 several of my friends started drinking,most of whom are now dead from alcohol related problems,so it was the harder drug that killed them,had they continued smoking cannabis they may well still be alive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.


    Cannabis as a gateway drug is a massively simplistic, and ignorant view. Being forced to do business with criminals to obtain this harmless, but illegal herb, does open windows to obtain harder drugs, but as someone who's smoked regularly for several years, I can honestly say I've never been tempted, that's not to say I haven't been offered though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 262.

    most pople only graduate to harder drugs because they are ALL being peddled by the same person.
    Take away the peddler, add in Gov regulated shop selling it.
    Means you never have to deal with someone selling anything harder....no brainer

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    I must declare a disinterest - I do not take drugs. I haven't taken an illicit substance since my Uni days! It seems that the arguments are easily divided into two broad camps: evidence-based v baseless scaremongering. The pro-prohibitionists are heavy on the 'this is a slippery slope to mass death' rhetoric, but very light on actual facts. Moreover, they argue in the face of facts and reason.

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    I don't like the idea that we must crack down on weed users to stop them from moving onto harder drugs.

    If there is research to suggest some of the harder drugs aren't, in terms of health risk, actually that bad, then excuse me for wanting to try new experiences.

    MDMA turned my life around for me. I've also enjoyed using other drugs now and again. I'm better now than ever before. Weird eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    NO, not a chance in hell will i ever pay a fine for holding a little weed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    @257 Fed Up

    And how many tried a beer first?

    And frankly, when some of them are less harmful than alcohol or tobacco, what's the problem with people getting 'into drugs' instead of drinking themselves stupid?

    I'd much rather any child of mine tried all manner of things in as informed and safe a manner as possible, instead of going on endless pub crawls, vomiting and fighting in the street etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    How many times have we heard people say that they got in to drugs by trying small amounts of various drugs just to see what the effect would be on them. Stick to current plan of fining people caught in possession, using etc and jail the serious, persistent offenders.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    249. "Let's not get silly about this. Those who use small amounts of soft drugs today WILL graduate to increasing amounts and most likely move on to harder drugs."

    This is counterfactual and quite silly.

    Do you think there's something about modern soft drugs that makes them different from the ones people took in the 60s? Because clearly most of *them* didn't "graduate to harder drugs"!

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    @249 eddienorfolk

    I smoke less now than i did at Uni. I work 5/6 days a week. I dont smoke before or during work, I wait till I'm home. I've never tried any other drug, because i do not want to.
    Why should I have to go through rehabilitation when i still function normally....unlike the alcoholics who get so intoxicated they cant walk and wet themselves.
    common sense?

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    Alcohol., cigarettes, pain killers etc are all legal ,but cannabis is illegal , and even though I don't do drugs apart from the odd pint now and then. One has to say that the law is an utter Ass in regard to what it deems to be legal and what it deems to be illegal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 253.

    i grow and i smoke to treat trigeminal neuralgia (the suicide disease), no one will ever tell me that i cant use a safe plant to treat myself, and with my doctors blessing. legalize cannabis now for all responsible adults.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    @249 eddienorfolk
    "Let's not get silly about this. Those who use small amounts of soft drugs today WILL graduate to increasing amounts and most likely move on to harder drugs."

    Utter tosh, sorry.

    Let's not be silly about this, there are large volumes of actual research which contradict your assertions (and government policies).

  • Comment number 251.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    The best arguments against legalisation seem to be that taking drugs is a waste of time; that taking drugs to excess can be harmful; and that drugs are sold to fund organised crime.

    Seriously. These really are the best they can come up with. And yet still they're illegal.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    Let's not get silly about this. Those who use small amounts of soft drugs today WILL graduate to increasing amounts and most likely move on to harder drugs. Rather than go easy on those who use these drugs it should be compulsory for those caught to have to attend rehabilitation as an alternative to a big fine. Peddlers should be jailed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    prohibition kills, prohibition kills, prohibition kills,,, get it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    227.Alan - ".....Drugs are rather pointless. Sure, you may get relaxed, but you will crave another lot......"

    That statement is completely & utterly false......it is true for some drugs, but only a few, and not true at all for most.....


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