Home Affairs Select Committee
Government's drug policy: Is it working? + Government reply [2002]



1. There are few subjects more emotive than illegal drugs. It is widely recognised that existing efforts to deal with them have failed, but as to solutions there is an absolute difference of opinions among experts of every relevant profession—doctors, police and social workers. Opinions—all advanced with equal passion—range from those who argue that prohibition has failed and should, therefore, be abandoned to those who argue that all drugs are harmful and that existing bans and proscriptions should be maintained or indeed tightened. In between there are many shades of grey.

6. Our terms of reference were as follows:

"The Committee expects to address these issues among others:

  • Does existing drugs policy work?
  • What would be the effect of decriminalisation on

a) the availability of and demand for drugs
b) drug-related deaths and
c) crime?

  • Is decriminalisation desirable and, if not, what are the practical alternatives?


7. Mr Mike Trace, former Deputy UK Anti-Drugs Co-ordinator and current Chair of the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction, told the Committee: "We could find no link across 15 Member States between the robustness of their policies and the level of prevalence. There are some countries with high prevalence, harsh policies, some countries with low prevalence, harsh policies, other countries with liberal policies and low prevalence. There is no link, there is no conceivable link".


9. At the outset it is important to keep a sense of proportion. Legal drugs, such as tobacco and alcohol, are responsible for far greater damage both to individual health and to the social fabric in general than illegal ones. It should also be borne in mind that not all drugs are equally harmful. While the inquiry has not specifically considered the social problems caused by alcohol or tobacco, our work has proceeded with these comparisons in mind.

10. Substance misuse is a continuum perhaps artificially divided into legal and illegal activity. Dr Colin Brewer, addiction psychiatrist and Medical Director of The Stapleford Centre, was of the opinion that: "The big problem is that people are talking about drugs and alcohol as though they were somehow different...It is only in this century that the curious idea has grown up that it is all right to intoxicate yourself with some drugs but not with others".

11. In Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain, Mr Keith Hellawell wrote: "it is clear to me that legally obtainable substances such as alcohol, tobacco, solvents and prescribed drugs used without medical control have close links with illegal drugs problems and should therefore be addressed, as appropriate, within the strategy". The Welsh National Assembly has formulated a strategy which covers the misuse of both illegal and legal drugs, and we believe that there is merit in this approach.


12. In 1998, 27% of the population of adults aged 16 and over smoked cigarettes in England and in 1995, over 120,000 deaths were caused by smoking in the UK: 20% of all deaths. The Royal College of Physicians has described cigarette smoking as "the single largest avoidable cause of premature death and disability in Britain" and "the greatest challenge and opportunity for all involved in improving the public health".

13. In 1998, 75% of men and 59% of women had drunk alcohol in the last week, and 37% of men and 20% of women had drunk over the recommended amount in the last week. The toll on health of alcohol misuse is difficult to quantify due to problems of how data is collected. The Department of Health's Statistics on Alcohol: England, 1978 onwards, notes that, depending on definitions, between 5,000 and 40,000 deaths a year can be attributed to alcohol abuse. A report recently published by Alcohol Concern suggested that one in four emergency hospital admissions of men is alcohol-related and that alcohol plays a part in about half of serious road crashes and about half of the incidents of domestic violence. Moreover, in about 40 percent of violent crimes committed in the year 2000 the aggressor was under the influence of alcohol.



  • Around a third of those aged 16-59 had tried drugs in their lifetime. However, only 11% had used drugs in the last year and 6% in the last month.
  • In the 16-29 group, 50% had tried drugs in their lifetime, 25% in the last year and 16% in the last month. This means that, of the nine and a half million young people aged 16-29 in England and Wales, at least 2.3 million would have used an illicit drug in the last year.
  • Cannabis was the most commonly used drug: over a fifth of young people aged 16-29 reported using it within the last year, whereas only around 1% of 16-29 year olds had used heroin in the last year, 5% of 16-29 year olds had used cocaine in the last year and around 5% of 16-29 year olds had used ecstasy in the last year.
  • In total around a fifth of young people have used Class A drugs in their lifetime, although only 8% reported use in the last year and 4% in the last month.

17. In comparison with other European countries, the UK has high prevalence rates. Mr Mike Trace told us that in terms of overall numbers of people who have ever used drugs, and numbers who used drugs last month: "the UK comes top of the European league. There may be six or seven other countries which are the same sort of level as us in overall prevalence, countries such as France, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and Holland, but three or four per cent below on most of these indicators".


18. Illegal drugs are easily available in Britain, despite the large amounts of public money pumped into attempts to stem the supply of illegal drugs. Mr Terry Byrne, Director of Law Enforcement, HM Customs and Excise, told the Committee: "the principal outcome indicators of street price, crude though they are...show that the figures are as low as they have ever been here in the UK. There is no sign at the moment that the overall attack on supply side is reducing availability or increasing the price [of illicit drugs]".


20. While around four million people use illicit drugs each year, most of those people do not appear to experience harm from their drug use, nor do they cause harm to others as a result of their habit.

21. Preliminary conclusions from a study of costs of drugs to society, at York University, suggest that problematic users are responsible for 99% of these costs.

23. If government policy is to make a positive impact on this group, it must tackle these problems at root, rather than simply trying to target their drug use. In evidence to the Committee, the Home Office estimated the number of problematic drug users as 250,000, of which 200,000 are problematic opiate users.

Harm to the health of the drug user

25. The Police Foundation Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 offered the following factors on which to assess personal harm of drug use:

"i) risks of the drug itself: acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) toxicity
ii) risks due to the route of use
iii) extent to which the drug controls behaviour (addictiveness/dependency)
iv) ease of stopping".

Acute dangers

26. The report of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, Reducing Drug-related Deaths, offered the following picture of the span of deaths which may be drug-related: "Immediate, or virtually immediate deaths, may arise directly from the pharmacological action of the drug. They may occur as the result of a "normal" dose, and accidental overdose or deliberate overdose (suicide) by the user. Less directly the drug may cause the taker to lose their normal judgement or control, leading to an accident".

27. Problems with the way in which data is collected makes it very difficult to put an exact number on drug-related deaths. The Advisory Council found in their report that estimates of immediate accidental deaths as a result of drug use varied three-fold, between 1,076 and 2,922 in 1998, depending which of three approaches was used to calculate this "core statistic".

28. While the number of illegal drug-related deaths per year does not, in the first instance, appear large compared with those who die from tobacco and alcohol use, the Advisory Council report made clear that, if the age of those dying is taken account of, the true toll of these statistics becomes clear.

Long term harm

29. The Department of Health statistics submitted to the Committee suggest that during 1999-2000, there were 8,505 hospital admissions with primary diagnoses of mental and behavioural disorders relating to drug misuse, although this may include some patients who were admitted more than once.

Harm to the health of others

32. Drugs can cause damage to the health of not only those individuals who use them, but also to the health of their family and friends and of the wider community in which they live.

33. It is clear that drug-related crime also has a malign influence upon the health of victims and communities. The Advisory Council's Report described how drug use might indirectly cause the deaths of others apart from the user: "the taking of drugs may lead to violent behaviour which causes the death of others; to the deaths of children through accidental overdose of a drug which has fallen into their hands; and to accidents, notably in road vehicles, killing third parties. Drugs can even contribute towards death without their being taken, when violent rivalry occurs between dealers".

34. Having said this, Commander Brian Paddick of the Metropolitan Police in Lambeth told us: "My view is that there are a whole range of people who buy drugs, not just cannabis, but even cocaine and ecstasy, who buy those drugs with money that they have earned legitimately. They use a small amount of these drugs, a lot of them just at weekends. It has no adverse effect on the rest of the people they are with either in terms of the people that they socialise with or the wider community. They go back to work on Monday morning and are unaffected for the rest of the week".

Harm to others—drug-related crime

35. The relation between drug use and crime is a subject of much debate. To quote Mr Hellawell once again, "all drug takers do not commit crime". However, there seem to be three relevant types of crime which are associated with drugs: organised crime involved with the supply of illicit drugs, acquisitive crime committed by some drug users to fund a habit, and violent crime committed by disinhibited stimulant users.

Drug-related property crime

36. On some estimates, one third of all property crime in the UK is judged to be drug related. Preliminary data from the Home Office "demonstrate much higher reported levels of acquisitive offending among users of heroin and cocaine/crack than among those arrestees who use other types of drug, or who do not use drugs at all". Overwhelmingly the users involved in crime tend to be the so-called problematic drug users who lead chaotic life styles and who are dependent on highly addictive drugs such as heroin or crack cocaine.

Drug-related violence

37. We have not been able to assess the contribution of drugs towards violent crime levels although it is a matter of record that the recent upsurge of shooting in London and other major cities is related to drugs—principally crack cocaine. It is also self-evident that the estimated £6.6 billion spent on drugs by users each year represents a lucrative source of revenue to the suppliers—mostly organised crime—and it would be surprising if this did not generate considerable violence amongst drug dealers seeking to extend or protect their territory.

38. We believe that drugs policy should primarily be addressed to dealing with the 250,000 problematic drug users rather than towards the large numbers whose drug use poses no serious threat either to their own well-being or to that of others. It follows that government policy should be examined in this light, and it is to this that we now turn.


48. The proponents of the most radical change to the drugs laws are those who suggest that the prohibition of currently illicit substances has not worked and cannot work. They argue that, far from limiting the harm caused by drug use, it is prohibition itself which causes the greater part of that harm. The argument here is that illegality militates against safe, open use and creates a dangerous environment in which drug use, criminality and social exclusion become unnecessarily wedded together.

49. Perhaps the clearest statement of this stance came from Transform—the Campaign for an Effective Drugs Policy: "All the evidence shows that UK drug policy has been an unmitigated disaster. Drug-related crime, death, destruction of inner city communities, billions in wasted expenditure and the loss of political autonomy of developing countries are the price we have paid for global prohibition. Prohibition is a recipe for disaster. We would be hard pressed to find a system with a higher propensity to lead to crime, social exclusion, violence, prostitution and general misery...In Transform's view prohibition has caused or created many of the problems associated with the use and misuse of drugs...drugs prohibition effectively hands the trade over to organised crime and unregulated dealers. Government abrogates all responsibility for the management of the supply side of the market and chaos prevails".

50. The Angel Declaration, a manifesto for change of the drugs laws, uses similar arguments: "the UK prohibition of controlled substances, now embodied in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, has proved ineffective in the achievement of its objects, counter-productive in its side-effects, wasteful of public resources, destructive in its cultivation of criminality and commercial abuse, and inhumane in its operation. The Act no longer constitutes an appropriate form of social regulation, consistent with the UK's Human Rights commitments".

51. Other witnesses have pointed to the failure of alcohol prohibition in the USA in the 1920s, making an analogy with today's prohibition of drugs. Mr Nick Davies of The Guardian told the Committee: "what drug becomes safer, in terms of health or social damage, if you make it illegal?... Look at what happened when they prohibited alcohol. Did that make people safer to have their alcohol brewed by gangsters using methylated spirits which made them blind? Did it help that there was an explosion of organised crime? Did they reduce alcohol harm by prohibition? No."

52. The alternative proposed is the legalisation and regulation of all controlled drugs. Transform suggest that there are various distribution mechanisms, already used for the controlled supply of legal substances such as alcohol, tobacco and medicines, through which such a retail system could operate, including over the counter sales, licensed sales, pharmacy sales and prescription through a doctor. The various mechanisms offer different degrees of restriction of availability, and different drugs could be sold in different ways.

53. It is argued that making currently illegal drugs available in this manner would not preclude the provision of vigorous health education campaigns aimed at discouraging use of any mind-altering substance. Sanctions on the age of legal consumers would be enforced as they are for the sale of alcohol and tobacco. The marketing of all drugs with potential for harm, including alcohol and tobacco, would be strictly forbidden.

54. We have heard a range of arguments for such a system, encompassing philosophical and practical considerations. Liberty's submission to the Committee laid out the philosophical reasons for this being desirable: "as part of a free, democratic society individuals should be able to make and carry out informed decisions as to their conduct, free of state interference, or in particular the criminal law, unless there are pressing social reasons otherwise. Liberty is of the view that the decision by an individual to take drugs is such a decision and comes within the ambit of personal autonomy and private life. John Stuart Mill argued that the state has no right to intervene to prevent individuals from harming themselves, if no harm was thereby done to the rest of society. 'Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.' Such fundamental rights are recognised by government, both in allowing individuals to partake of certain dangerous activities, for example drinking, extreme sports, and also in international treaties".

55. Dr Colin Brewer, Medical Director of the Stapleford Centre, put the argument to us in rather blunter terms: "Until 1916 you could intoxicate yourself with whatever you liked. You could go to hell in your own handcart, but at least the law did not interfere. Personally I feel rather strongly we should go back to that set of Victorian values".

56. On practical grounds, the argument has been made to us that a system of controlled availability of drugs would allow the Government to exert a much greater degree of control over the way in which substances are used, than is currently possible. Transform put it in this way: "drugs should be legalised because they are dangerous not because they are safe". A legal system would, it is argued, allow the Government to regulate and guarantee the quality and dosages of drugs supplied, and to make available the safest equipment to administer the drug, all of which could be buttressed with health advice. Legalisation might take away some of the stigma of drug use, encouraging more drug addicts to seek treatment. Mr Fulton Gillespie, whose son died of a heroin overdose, said to us: "how can we regulate supply if we are not in charge of the power station? We have to take control away from criminals and place it back where it belongs, with us".

57. It is also argued that it would be easier to deter new users through truthful education policies if the laws on drugs were consistent with those on alcohol and tobacco, just as health education in the recent past has had a positive impact on prevalence of tobacco smoking. Even if legalisation did result in an increase in experimental drug use, we have been told, higher prevalence would be a small price to pay for all the other associated benefits of a legal and regulated market, as use does not necessarily lead to problematic use. As many addicts also fund themselves through small-scale dealing, it is argued that, with the expense of a habit removed, this pressure to recruit new users would be removed, with a positive impact on prevalence rates.

58. A legal supply system, it is argued, would take away a massive source of income for the organised criminals currently supplying the drugs market, and hence reduce organised crime. The legalisers argue that, while it is no doubt true that an illegal market could not be completely eliminated, it is logical to assume that it could be reduced significantly by the existence of a legal market, hence making the funding of organised crime more difficult, at least in the short-term.

59. It is also argued that legalisation and regulation of drugs would reduce crime committed by addicts to fund a drug addiction, as addicts could buy their supply relatively cheaply from licensed retailers. Dr Brewer commented: "many people who find themselves...dependent on heroin and therefore having to do frightful things in order to raise enough money to buy it, would either not need to commit crime or would commit far fewer crimes, like impoverished alcoholic patients".

61. Mr Ainsworth told us that the criminal market could never be entirely removed even within a legalised system, "unless you were prepared to sell it at a low price to almost anybody". He went on, "if you attempted to tax it, regulate the price, or prevented it getting into the hands of people whose hands you did not want it to get into then a secondary market would grow up around the legal market, and we would have some of the same problems of enforcement that we have now". Mr Nicholas Dorn of DrugScope pointed out that organised crime is not dependent on the drugs trade for its survival: "I do not think the enormous criminal conspiracy is going to collapse by the removal of drugs from it. If you look at your average UK drug trafficker or European-based drug trafficker, they are likely to be involved not exclusively in drugs trafficking but also in some other activities...We are not going to have a clean house and get rid of organised crime".

62. Opponents also argue that a rise in new users and in problematic use would cancel out any harm reduction gains of a legalised and regulated system. The speculation that the removal of illegality would encourage more new users and make it easier for new users to experiment with drugs has been the most widely-held objection to legalisation heard by the Committee. Mr Ainsworth told us: "I do not believe that heroin is as freely available to young people as it would be in the kind of regime you describe. I think it would be a lot more available".

63. Sue Killen, Director of the Anti-Drugs Unit at the Home Office, told us that illegality carries a deterrent effect, and Mr Geoff Ogden, Co-ordinator of the East Riding and Hull Drug Action Team, told the Committee: "The word on the street for a long time about cannabis is the youngsters think it is going to be legalised...so it is cool to use it". Mr Ainsworth told us that: "it is proven beyond all doubt that illegality discourages use; that legalisation would lead, to some degree, to an increase in use".

64. Data on the deterrent effect is scarce, but a MORI poll conducted for the Police Foundation's Independent Inquiry found that the main reason why people do not take drugs is personal choice rather than a fear of the consequences or the legal implications. 56% of people questioned said the main reason people do not take drugs is they simply do not want to; 51% cited fears for health; 50% fear of death and 46% fear of addiction. 30% of adults and 19% of children felt that people did not take drugs because they did not wish to break the law; 17% (12% of children) said they did not because they were afraid of being caught by the police.

65. We have listened carefully to the arguments. We acknowledge that there is force behind some of those advanced in favour of legalising and regulating. The criminal market might well be diminished (though not eliminated); likewise drug-related crime. Harm may well be reduced, although this would have to be balanced against an inevitable increase in the number of drug abusers if drugs were more widely and cheaply available. It is inevitable too that, however tightly the sale of drugs was regulated, there would be a significant leakage to under-age abusers, as there is already with cigarettes and alcohol. We do not agree with the contention that illegal drugs are already as widely available to under-age abusers as they would be under legalisation. We agree with those who say that legalisation would send the wrong message to the overwhelming majority of young people who do not take drugs. We also accept that a significant number of young people—we can argue about the numbers—are deterred from drug abuse by the fact that drugs are illegal. Finally, we note that however forceful the arguments, no other country has yet been persuaded to legalise and regulate. Nor can we ever foresee a day when it would be possible to legalise a drug as dangerous as crack cocaine, which leads to violent and unpredictable behaviour.

66. While acknowledging that there may come a day when the balance may tip in favour of legalising and regulating some types of presently illegal drugs, we decline to recommend this drastic step.


67. A less drastic alternative would be to legalise, or at least to decriminalise, personal possession of some types of drugs. Mr Dorn of DrugScope told us, "DrugScope's position in relation to users is a practical one, that in effect...drug use per se should not be criminalised". Turning Point, one of the largest voluntary sector providers of substance misuse services, told us: "criminal procedures should no longer be initiated for the possession of small amounts of any scheduled drug".

68. The main argument in favour of decriminalising possession is that it would remove the obligation of giving criminal records to large numbers of young people arrested for drug use who are, in all other respects, law abiding citizens. As regards cannabis we were told by Turning Point: "prison is never an acceptable environment in which to deal with possession. It does not serve a useful purpose for individuals or society if recreational users are brought closer to the consolidating of their criminality. A criminal record makes education, employment and family relationships much more difficult at a crucial stage of a young person's life and they are likely to learn more about drugs and more serious crimes inside prison than outside it".

69. It is also arguable that the criminalisation of personal possession, where use causes harm to no-one other than the user, is the least justifiable part of the drugs laws on human rights grounds. Liberty argues: "Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides: 'Everyone has respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well being of the county, for the prevention of crime, for the projection of health and morals, or for the protection of rights and freedoms of others'. In a society that respects fundamental freedoms of the individual, and in particular the right to individual autonomy and choice, general restrictions and criminalisation of taking of drugs, cannot be justified".

70. It is also argued that decriminalisation would formalise a policing situation which already exists in relation to some drugs. The Police Federation, however, argued that no change was necessary as the police already have sufficient discretion to take a lenient view of possession of cannabis, for example: "while it remains a criminal offence to possess or to supply cannabis, the police have been operating a reasonable approach. This recognises the reality of the current situation and takes note of the more relaxed attitudes of a significant section of the population. Such an approach is consistent with the principle of policing by consent. There is no real contradiction between a lenient police attitude to possession for personal use, and continuing to target the criminals who import and distribute the drug".

71. At least two significant problems are presented by decriminalisation of possession for personal use. One concerns the "messages" which are sent out to young people, and the possible recruitment of new users (see paragraph 64 above).

72. The second problem posed by decriminalisation of personal possession is that it offers no solution to the problem of supply and in fact might give drug suppliers an incentive to seek to expand the user market. It would engage enforcement agencies in a murky grey area between the user and the supplier, particularly in respect to small scale "social" suppliers, and would add a further degree of confusion to policing drugs. It might also diminish respect for the law as it would embrace a fundamental inconsistency—that it is permissible to use drugs, but not permissible to supply them.

73. Attracted though we are by the prospect of avoiding giving criminal records to otherwise law-abiding young people, we believe that this problem is better dealt with by reclassification, which we address below.

74. We accept that to decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use would send the wrong message to the majority of young people who do not take drugs and that it would inevitably lead to an increase in drug abuse. We, therefore, reject decriminalisation.


86. The importance of correctly classifying controlled drugs does not rest purely upon the justice of the penalties attached to possession and supply. It also has a significant impact upon the educational "messages" communicated to current and potential drug users about the dangers of using particular drugs. The point continually reiterated to the Committee is that, if the law (and education) does not reflect the realities of risk, users and potential users are likely to assume that all warnings are similarly skewed. Nor will it escape the notice of users and potential users if the law does not reflect relative harm: many young people will be presented with evidence of others using drugs all around them, and come to their own conclusions.

88. We, therefore, conclude that the time has come to reconsider the existing classifications for the less harmful drugs and we address each in turn.


89. According to the British Crime Survey 2000, cannabis was the most commonly used of all illegal drugs. Of all respondents aged 16 to 59, 27% said they had tried the drug in their lifetime, 9% had used it in the last year and 6% in the last month. Amongst 16 to 29 year olds, however, 44% had used it in their life, 22% in the last year and 14% in the last month.

94. The risks of cannabis need to be put into the context of the "acceptable" risks posed by alcohol and tobacco. DrugScope told us that "in relation to the millions of individuals who have been exposed to the drug in this country since the late 1960s, cannabis compares favourably (in terms of health implications) with legal drugs widely used such as alcohol and tobacco". There is also, of course, the fact that most people tend to grow out of smoking cannabis.

Possible reclassification

118. On 14 March, the Advisory Council reported their view that cannabis should be reclassified as a Class C drug, as "the current classification of cannabis is disproportionate in relation both to its inherent harmfulness, and to the harmfulness of other substances, such as amphetamines, that are currently in Class B".

Conclusions on cannabis

120. We accept that cannabis can be harmful and that its use should be discouraged. We accept that in some cases the taking of cannabis can be a gateway to the taking of more damaging drugs. However, whether or not cannabis is a gateway drug, we do not believe there is anything to be gained by exaggerating its harmfulness. On the contrary, exaggeration undermines the credibility of messages that we wish to send regarding more harmful drugs.


149. The proportion of the population using heroin is relatively small, but the damage caused to individuals, families and communities is enormous. The British Crime Survey 2000 found that 2% of its sample had ever taken heroin, 1% in the last year, and less than 0.5% in the last month. These proportions were the same within the 16 to 24 age group. The number of problematic heroin users in the UK is generally agreed to be around 200,000. These figures represent a huge increase on thirty years ago when the estimated number of known addicts was around 1,000.

Harm to users

151. Heroin is highly addictive and its illegality means that the addiction is difficult to satisfy safely.

152. Professor Nutt told us that, if managed properly, heroin use need not prevent an individual from having a relatively normal life: "Clean heroin clearly if used appropriately is safe...we have seen patients who have been using heroin for 20 or 30 years on a three to four times a day basis just to keep their dependence at bay. Some of these are very successful individuals".

153. It is this dependence, frustrated by the illegality—and therefore inaccessibility—of the substance, which causes users to engage in a cycle of high risk and damaging behaviour in order to obtain the heroin on which they depend.

197. We have heard that the causes of damaging drug use include underlying mental health problems, social exclusion, deprivation and abuse, which are also implicated in drug-related crime committed by users. A combination of education, social interventions and treatment, alongside enforcement will be required to tackle these causes. A recent report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs observed that: "On strong balance of probability, deprivation is today in Britain likely often to make a significant causal contribution to the cause, complication and intractability of damaging kinds of drug misuse...We want now and in the future to see deprivation given its full and proper place in all considerations of drug prevention policy".


198. Many witnesses have stressed to us the importance of preventive work with young people designed to discourage them from starting to take drugs.

199. However, the Home Office has not presented us with any evidence of the effectiveness of this work. The Health Development Agency told us in evidence that: "Most initiatives and innovations in the drug education and prevention field are not evidence-based and have not been subject to evidence-based evaluation. Initial findings from [our] review show that there are very few systematic reviews of drug education and prevention activity".

201. We are also concerned about the quality of drugs education material, and the possibility of ambiguous messages contained within it. We accept Mr Ainsworth's recognition that "preaching at young people is not going to work". However, we believe that all drugs education material should be based on the premise that any drug use can be harmful and should be discouraged.

211. We acknowledge the importance of educating all young people about the harmful effects of all drugs, legal and illegal. Nonetheless, we recommend that the Government conducts rigorous analysis of its drugs education and prevention work and only spends money on what works, focussing in particular on long term and problem drug use and the consequent harm.


222. Many, if not most, of the witnesses to the Committee have been keen to impress upon us that the drugs issue is, at root a health rather than a criminal justice issue, and that it is both more appropriate and more effective to address it as such. With this in mind, concern has been expressed that responsibility for drugs policy has moved to the Home Office from the Cabinet Office. A survey conducted by Drugscope of its 900 members (of which almost one third responded) found that "The main way in which the drug strategy is thought not to be working was in the over-emphasis on the criminal justice elements of drug misuse, and that this focus has had adverse effects on the health agenda". The Substance Misuse Faculty of the Royal College of Psychiatrists told us that "We believe that criminal justice initiatives are in conflict with health priorities".

225. we would still question the effectiveness of money spent on criminal justice interventions of questionable effectiveness which could more usefully be put into treatment.

227. Research from the National Treatment Outcome Research Study showed that: "For every extra £1 spent on drug misuse treatment, there is a return of more than £3 in terms of cost savings associated with victim costs of crime, and reduced demands upon the criminal justice system¼The true cost savings to society may be even greater than this".

229. It cannot be said too strongly that, given the damage to the community that the chaotic drug user can cause, investment in effective treatment is in the wider public interest.


265. The United Kingdom is one of many signatories to several international treaties on drugs, which constitute a fairly restrictive cradle around our own legislative regime. Significant changes, such as the legalisation of some or all drugs, could not be pursued unilaterally without transgressing the treaties, and could therefore only follow their renegotiation.

266. we believe the time has come for the international treaties to be reconsidered.

267. We recommend that the Government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways—including the possibility of legalisation and regulation—to tackle the global drugs dilemma.


268. If there is any single lesson from the experience of the last 30 years, it is that policies based wholly or mainly on enforcement are destined to fail. It remains an unhappy fact that the best efforts of police and Customs have had little, if any, impact on the availability of illegal drugs and this is reflected in the prices on the street which are as low as they have ever been.

269. What we do know is that the ready availability of illegal drugs is sustaining a vast criminal industry and that the need of addicts to fund their habit is responsible for an enormous amount of acquisitive crime. We also know that the harm caused by illegal drugs varies immensely from one drug to another and—since most users and potential users know this—there is no point in pretending otherwise.

270. It, therefore, seems to us that certain conclusions follow inexorably: First, that harm reduction rather than retribution should be the primary focus of policy towards users of illegal drugs. We are glad to note that the Government is making the first tentative steps in that direction. We believe it should go further and have offered some suggestions.

271. Second, that law enforcement should focus primarily on the criminal network responsible for manufacturing and importing the most harmful drugs—notably heroin and cocaine. We are glad to note that increasingly this is happening.

272. Three, that we should invest in a programme of education—addressing all forms of drug abuse, including cigarettes and alcohol—to make young people aware of the damage they can inflict upon themselves and others. To be effective, however, such programmes must be realistic, honest, targeted and preferably delivered by someone with "street credibility"—recovered addicts, for example.

273. Four, we have to recognise that, however much advice they are offered, many young people will continue to use drugs. In most cases this is a passing phase which they will grow out of and, while such use should never be condoned, it rarely results in any long term harm. It therefore makes sense to give priority to educating such young people in harm minimisation rather than prosecuting them.

274. Five, overwhelmingly we should focus on treating or reducing the harm caused by the 250,000 or so problematic users whose habit is damaging not only their own lives, but those of their families and the communities in which they live. Although there are recent signs of improvement, treatment facilities remain woefully inadequate.

275. Finally, many sensible and thoughtful people have argued that we should go a step further and embrace legalisation and regulation of all or most presently illegal drugs. We acknowledge there are some attractive arguments. However, those who urge this course upon us are inviting us to take a step into the unknown. To tread where no other society has yet trod. They are asking us to gamble the undoubted potential gains against the inevitability of a significant increase in the number of users, especially amongst the very young. They are overlooking the fact that the overwhelming majority of young people do not use drugs and that many are deterred by the prospect of breaking the law. We, therefore, decline to support legalisation and regulation.

276. It may well be that in years to come a future generation will take a different view. Drugs policy should not be set in stone. It will evolve like any other. For the foreseeable future, however, we believe the path is clear.

Government reply:

HASC: "66. While acknowledging that there may come a day when the balance may tip in favour of legalising and regulating some types of presently illegal drugs, we decline to recommend this drastic step".
Government reply: "(c) All drugs are harmful, and prohibition deters the use of drugs. We will not legalise and regulate the use of any presently illegal drugs (with limited exceptions for medical purposes where this is shown to be beneficial). Nor does the Government envisage any circumstance in which it would do so".

HASC: "267. We recommend that the Government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways—including the possibility of legalisation and regulation—to tackle the global drugs dilemma".
Government reply: "(tt) The Government does not accept this recommendation. We do not accept that legalisation and regulation is now, or will be in the future, an acceptable response to drugs. The Government regularly participates in debates in the Commission on Narcotic Drugs that explore a wide range of strategies for dealing with the global drugs dilemma. The positions the Government takes in these debates must be consistent with our domestic legislation and international obligations".