UK Drug Policy Commission calls for drug penalties to be relaxed
“Using illegal drugs is like gambling or eating junk food and there needs to be a wholesale review of the Government’s approach,” the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) has said.
A six-year study found much of the £3 billion the UK has spent annually on tackling illicit drugs is not based on evidence.
Calling for a review of drug laws and the classification system, the UKDPC said possession of small amounts of controlled drugs, for personal use, should be made a civil offence instead of a criminal offence. Some 42,000 people in England and Wales are sentenced each year for the possession of drugs, with about 160,000 people given cannabis warnings, the report added.
For cannabis, there was also “an argument that amending the law relating to the growing of it, at least for personal use, might go some way to undermining the commercialisation of production.”
The commission called for Parliament “to revisit the level of penalties applied to all drug offences and particularly those concerned with production and supply,” but stopped short of calling for the decriminalisation or legalisation of most drugs.
“Just like with gambling or eating junk food, there are some moderately selfish or risky behaviours that free societies accept will occur and seek to limit to the least damaging manifestations, rather than to prevent entirely.”
It added, “The best policy will depend on which users and suppliers we are talking about, on what drugs they are using and supplying, and on other factors relevant to their particular case as well as the types of harm being caused, both to individuals and to society.”
Professor Colin Blakemore, the former chief executive of the Medical Research Council said, “Medicine has moved past the age when we treated disease on the basis of hunches and received wisdom.
“The overwhelming consensus now is that it is unethical, inefficient and dangerous to use untested and unvalidated methods of treatment and prevention.”
Dame Ruth Runciman, the UKDPC’s chairwoman, said: “It is time that policy on illicit drug use starts taking evidence seriously as well.
“Those programmes are supported by evidence, but much of the rest of drug policy does not have an adequate evidence base,” she added.
The UKDPC report urged the government to support individuals and emphasised that programmes designed to prevent people from using drugs “have generally been shown to have little or no impact, or even to increase drug use.”
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 its 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.”
The spokeswoman added, “I want to take this opportunity to thank the UKDPC for its work in this area over the past six years.”