Experts urge illegal drug rethink

The independent body that analyses drug laws says using illegal drugs is like gambling or eating junk food. After a six-year study it wants the government to rethink its approach.

Government defends 'ambitious' drug approach

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.

– A Home Office spokeswoman

Current youth drug education has 'little or no impact'

The UKDPC report, A Fresh Approach to Drugs, called for a change in policy in several areas:

  • Drugs policy needs to be changed to focus on lowering the risk of harm to users and to others, and the bar should be set particularly high for children and young people.
  • Government and society should support individuals to behave responsibly.
  • Current programmes aiming to prevent young people from using drugs through education and information generally "have little or no impact" and can even increase drug use.
  • Traditional law enforcement efforts often "have limited or no sustained impact on supply" and can have unintended consequences.
  • Instead, police action should focus on particularly harmful groups or behaviours, such as using intelligence to identify and prosecute dealers who are particularly violent or who exploit children.

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Policy makers 'must base drug approach on evidence'

Dame Ruth Runciman, the UKDPC chairwoman, said while Government programmes to reduce the damage caused by drug problems - like needle exchanges and investment in treatment for addicts - are supported by evidence, "much of the rest of drug policy does not have an adequate evidence base."

She added:

We spend billions of pounds every year without being sure of what difference much of it makes.

A fellow commission member, the former chief executive of the Medical Research Council Professor Colin Blakemore, added:

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. It is time that policy on illicit drug use starts taking evidence seriously as well.

Parliament must change drug penalties, report says

The UKDPC 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.

The report, titled A Fresh Approach to Drugs, said:

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.

But the commission said policy makers were failing to deal effectively with drugs - amid the rapid creation of new substances. The report added:

Seeing all drug use as invariably problematic can reduce the cost-effectiveness of policy. 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. Taking drugs does not always cause problems, but this is rarely acknowledged by policy makers.

UK's £3bn drugs war a harmful waste of time, experts say

A man smoking a cannabis joint.
Around 160,000 people receive cannabis warnings every year in England and Wales. Credit: PA Wire

Britain's annual £3 billion war on drugs is a waste of public money that is not based on evidence and damages lives, experts have said following a six-year study.

The final report of the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) called for a "wholesale review" of drugs laws, in which possessing small amounts of drugs for personal use should be made a civil offence instead of a criminal offence.

The independent body likened using illegal drugs to gambling or eating junk food.