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 346.

    Brilliant idea. Most people I know smoke cannabis and they don't create problems, it's a waste of money and police time to keep these laws the way they are. I don't see what the problem is you can go and buy alcohol and get blind drunk but you can't smoke a spliff it's ridiculous. Please read my article http://socyberty.com/issues/marijuana-vs-alcohol-the-discussion/#.UHYTnrxcY68.blogger

  • rate this

    Comment number 345.

    What a waste of money. The 'drugs are bad' thinking is like a religion. When people fall for it they will never let facts get in the way of their opinion.

    Unfortunately there will never be a rational examination by any government as the right wing press would slaughter them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 344.

    Like so many things in this country, it is way past the time to keep following the USA and look else where for solutions.

    Perhaps Portugal's experience would be a better solution and the government HAVE already asked them about it.


  • rate this

    Comment number 343.

    Drugs. One of the few subjects where the less personal experience you have of the subject, the more opinionated you are. If you've never taken any drug in your life, why should we be remotely interested in what you think?

  • rate this

    Comment number 342.

    It's salient to consider why cannabis was criminalised in the first place. Like just about every other political act, the reasons had nothing to do with public health and everything to do with economics - and specifically, the economic interests of large corporations.
    Hemp represented a huge threat to US corporations who had vested interests in oil, cotton and timber production. So they banned it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 341.

    I am sure every substance that affects human consciousness affects the individual on a much deeper level. I am concerned that legalizing drugs would create more problems for society at large - I believe this idea is a way of getting more money for the economy and then telling people to be more responsible in its use.

    Governments must be seen to be responsible for the citizens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 340.

    We have tried relaxed rules for drugs before by down grading them and it did not work and allowing people to grow there own this would be a charter for criminals to grow it in multi small units and at what cost to the NHS in picking up side effects that people suffer from them
    so we save on police budgets but have to spend more on NHS budgets

  • rate this

    Comment number 339.

    @337. firemensaction

    So your sole argument is we should legalise drugs because we can make money out of it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 338.

    @325. Probably off-topic, but... do you ever get the feeling the BBC is trying to wind you up?

    I cannot disagree with your sentiments.

    Whilst the UK's stance on drugs is important there is no means of voicing support for Malala Yousafzai, the brave girl who was shot in the name of religion by cowards in a country that grows many of drugs that end up on our streets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 337.

    Just think. If there was NO war on drugs Govt could TAX it and make a fortune, thus funding NHS, so no cuts??

  • rate this

    Comment number 336.

    Been there seen it done it...
    I have no inclination too listen too right wing idiots...

    Here is the double negative,or is it???

    You want every single thing your way!

    Your pointless negociative skills talk volumes.
    Thanks for the memories... The 70s 80s 90s were so good BBC and every single political THEORY that tried to Debunk drugs and any Social Theory.......BLAME POLITICS and its CORRECTNESS

  • rate this

    Comment number 335.

    I totally agree with this move.
    We have had a "war" on drugs,on "terror"on smoking,on alcohol and a "war" on people (citizens) who are overweight.All attack personal freedom.
    How about a war on politicians?
    We were lied to about Iraq, we are lied to about political measures.
    Any small step to stop these moves welcome!
    Unfortunately the political war on freedom seems to be succeeding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 334.

    @333. Wonko-the-sane

    By observing the world I assume you mean getting stoned with your mates? Trust me you know nothing about me, I have seen plenty of the world, almost certainly more than you and a considerable amount of it could not be considered tourist trap teratory.

    I think that you think you know considerably more than you actually do

  • rate this

    Comment number 333.

    Final comment to everyone who insists on continuing to fight a war that has been lost, and lost badly.

    I can only recommend that you watch The Wire, and read The Corner. You'll be entertained, but more importantly there's a chance that you might be educated a little about this issue, by a man who has spent a lot of time observing this world - you'll see how current govt policy makes it worse.

  • Comment number 332.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 331.

    But think of your local drug gangs. Do you really think they would stop because you can buy heavily taxed weed from Tesco? They will just undercut official prices and probably end up with a bigger market as drugs are legal. Great idea.

    Where are all the serious crime gangs with alocohol and tobacco? Are they as big a problem as the drug crews? Sounds like a better idea than yours

  • rate this

    Comment number 330.

    @326. Wonko-the-sane
    If it is legal then it becomes more acceptable, and more likely to be tried by people who would not today due to its increased "respectability"

    At a time when we are trying to make alcohol and tabaco less and less acceptable does this not run contery? Or are you advocating the laxing of laws on these drugs too?

  • rate this

    Comment number 329.

    Those responsible for policy and implementation have a thorough and practical understanding of the problem. Drugs directly harm users, be it by class A or the stupidity and stupor of cannabis. It is an unfotunate problem and current policy actually is a new approach. Because they damage people, upto 2000 deaths a year, tolerance is a significant issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 328.


    I have shopped in Alain Bstard TESCO by the sounds before you WHIPPED yourself,,,,,,,,,,lol.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 327.

    Here is another point for you druggies;

    Aside from making your little habit legal so you won't face a slap on the wrist, you never ever put up a reason why society should welcome liberal drug laws. What argument have you got? None.

    It's a minority pursuit with no actual purpose. Plenty of negatives to it though..... Boaz.


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