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 286.

    Would it be Ok if you take drugs standing up?

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    60,000 thousand dead in mexico none users and users alike ,how, shot beheaded burnt and butchered,good,bad and ugly alike

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    4 Hours ago

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


    Winston Churchill, Arthur Conan Doyle, Carl Sagan, Dr Francis Crick Nobel prize winner, George Washington and John F Kennedy, all people who smoked cannabis. Hardly scum. Science is the father of knowledge, but opinion breeds ignorance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    If it wer'n't for smoking, drugs and alcohol, many would have to work harder.

    Drinkers and smokers help keep income tax down.

    Also the more time people spend on cannabis the less time they spend doing useful things like applying for jobs, applying for promotion, practising their arts / hobbies, studying and training, working out etc.

    This reduces competition and makes the non-users life easier.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    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."

    I trust you have evidence to back up your definite assertion?

    If so, tell the scientific community. They've been looking for it for decades and have never found any good causal link.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    I do not mind one way or another if people take drugs, as long as they do so in a safe environment that puts no one at risk other than themselves. Obviously not driving, or working under the influence if they work in an environment with machinery etc..

    I take my "legal" drugs in the form of a few beers and a smoke (tobacco) so why should they be denied theirs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    @Fat Fredyz Cat
    "It's probably never going to kill you, but the physical affects are quite severe." - bad effects of chronic use for years is quite moderate comparing to anything else you ingest on daily basis.
    "So, yes it is possible to overdose on cannabis." - not fatally because you would have to smoke many times more than you weight in 15 minutes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    Well except if you are trading on the stock markets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    I disagree with drug use, but I think it is the "Nanny State" at work here. As a 15 year old in the early 1960s my hobby was photography. I could go into a high-street chemist shop and buy uranium nitrate, mercuric chloride, concentrated sulphuric acid and even had potassium cyanide. No harm came to me. I was sensible. Now that is impossible - I get questioned when buying indigestion remedies!

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    41. 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.

    Drug use hasn't dropped in America. What on Earth made you believe it had?

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    I am very anti-drugs and never taken or tried an illegal susbstance in my life but even I think the subject of drugs needs a new radical approach.

    I fear the consequences of legalisation and the affects it may have but it is happening behind closed doors now and in front of children. Legal or not we cannot stop that so legalise and tax it, I say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.


    I'd like to pay for my prescriptions please. I don't want the NHS to suffer from a budget shortfall on my behalf of my recreational activities, but other than that it sounds good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 274.

    Legalise the lot. Class A and B free on prescription, Class C over the counter at the chemist with all users registered and offered help
    No more customs searching for illegal drugs.
    No more police chasing dealers and users
    No more court time used for drug cases
    No more burgalaries to fund drugs
    No more dealers shooting on the streets
    No more drug barons.
    Other opinions may vary

  • Comment number 273.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    @268 Scotty

    Most drug crime is in support of a costly addiction like heroin. Some countries find that by giving addicts access to heroin in a controlled environment, they can reduce this. By making it a medical (not criminal) issue we reduce harm to both society and addict and cut dealer's profits.

    This is just one measure those of us that push for evidence based policy would like to see.

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    @268 - you've actually just defeated your own argument, are you aware of that? Both crime and fatalities can be reduced by a new approach. The crime and death of which you speak has all taken place under the Misuse of Drugs Act. Are we agreed, then, that this Act is not fit for purpose and has failed? Unwittingly you have argued for the liberal camp.

  • Comment number 270.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    You could actually send a very positive message to drug users by making the less harmful drugs legal. It would stop them having to go to people who might try to hook them on heroin just to score some weed, and it would restore some faith in the law if people saw it as genuinely trying to protect them, rather than just trying to protect the alcohol and tobacco industries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    How many crimes are commited due to drugs.?? How many deaths are due to drugs.?? The drug dealers have ruined hundreds of lives over the years so sentences for drug users and dealers should be harsher. Zero tolerence should be thing not letting people off with cautions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    The problem is that politicians put drugs in 1 big bag. (no joke intended) making little differentiation between an odd bit of weed and a heavy addict damaging themselves and society.

    In every other area of the law they manage, differentiating between say shoplifting and armed robbery.

    Only when this happens can realistic solutions to the problems (if any) be developed.


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