REPORT OF DRUGSCOPE MEMBERS SURVEY ON CURRENT
UK DRUGS POLICY
DrugScope surveyed its 900 members in order
to inform the Home Affairs Select Committee of the views of those
implementing drug policy on the ground on what direction policy
There is overwhelming support for a change in
the current legal framework for controlling cannabis, with 90
per cent thinking it should be re-classified to class C.
There is significant majority support
for the removal of all criminal sanctions for the possession and
confiscation of small quantities of cannabis for personal use.
There is majority support for the
change in the current legal framework for LSD and Ecstasy from
class A to class B.
There is majority support for shorter
sentences for possession of small quantities of class A drugs,
and overwhelming support for the civil confiscation of proceeds
of drug trafficking.
The main way in which the drug strategy
is thought to be working is in the improvement in local partnership
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.
There is majority support for DATs
being put on a statutory footing.
There is majority opinion that drug
strategy targets overall are unrealistic and unworkable because
of lack of baseline data to measure progress.
The main priority for tackling drugs
in the UK should be in drug treatmentincreasing resources
to improve access to treatment, the quality of treatment, and
the range of treatment options available.
DrugScope members were consulted in late August
2001 on their views on a range of drug law and policy issues in
order to inform the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into
drug policy. A letter was sent to all DrugScope members (approximately
900) in August 2001, along with a questionnaire to complete. DrugScope's
member bodies are drawn from organisations working in drug treatment,
prevention and education, as well as police, probation, prison
services, researchers, academics and those involved in training.
Those responding are mostly nominated representatives of their
agency. However, in the time available to carry out this survey
it was seen as unlikely that representatives would be able to
secure full endorsement of their agency for their submission.
They were asked to indicate whether their personal views were
likely to reflect their organisational position. Only a very small
number (2 per cent) thought that their views would not be supported
by their agency.
Almost one third of DrugScope members responded
to the survey, giving their personal views on the drug law and
policy issues raised in the questionnaire. The responses were
analysed, using the SPSS software package for the quantitative
data and keyword analysis for the qualitative data.
3. DRUGS AND
Members were asked their opinions on a range
of options for the legal status of cannabis, from the status quo
through to full legislation of the drug.
89 per cent of DrugScope members
thought that the current legal framework for cannabis should be
89 per cent thought that cannabis
should be reclassified as a class C drug.
97 per cent supported the removal
of imprisonment as one of the possible sanctions for the possession
and cultivation of "small" quantities of cannabis for
81 per cent supported the removal
of all criminal sanctions for the possession and cultivation of
"small" quantities of cannabis for own use.
61 per cent supported the introduction
of purely civil penalties (eg a fine) for possession and cultivation
of "small" quantities of cannabis for own use.
67 per cent supported a regime involving
no sanctions (criminal or civil) for the possession and cultivation
of "small" quantities of cannabis for own use, at the
same time retaining sanctions for "large-scale" supply.
81 per cent supported a "licensing"
system for restricted availability of cannabis.
45 per cent supported the full legislation
of the supply, cultivation and possession of cannabis.
3.2 Other drugs
Members were asked for their opinion on changing
the classification on other durgs (Ecstasy and LSD), current sentencing
for drugs offences and confiscation of proceeds of drug trafficking.
66 per cent support the reclassification
of Ecstasy and related compounds from class A to class B.
57 per cent support transferring
LSD from class A to class B.
69 per cent support reducing the
maximum sentence for possession of "small" quantities
of class A drugs from seven years to one year.
94 per cent support the civil confiscation
of proceeds of drug trafficking and other serious crimes as foreseen
for the UK in proposed legislation.
We also sought our members' views on various
aspects of the drugs strategy, particularly as to its impact on
the ground. The following points highlight the key responses to
4.1 How the drug strategy is working
In what specific ways is the drugs strategy
in your country and/or the UK drugs strategy working well?
It has improved local inter-agency
work. Organisations which were once distinct and separate, are
now working together in partnership. Most of these respondents
were positive about the experience of this joint working. There
was recognition that DATs had helped further partnership work.
There has been increased funding
and resources made available for drug treatment, which in turn
has led to service development and better treatment options. There
are more resources generally available to tackle a wide range
of drug misuse issues, including education and prevention.
It has increased awareness of drugs
issues. It has raised the profile, helped an informed debate to
develop, leading to a better understanding of the issues involved
in tackling drug misuse.
The focus on young people, and the
increased development of young people's strategies, has led to
better education and prevention services in schools and elsewhere,
and has improved specific young people treatment options.
The new criminal justice initiativesDTTOs,
Arrest Referral schemes and CARATswere thought to be working
well by some respondents, increasing treatment options for people
who would otherwise not get treatment.
4.2 How the drug strategy is not working
In what specific ways is the drugs strategy
not working well?
There is an over-emphasis on criminal
justice elements of drug misuse. It was largely felt that the
focus on criminal justice had been at the expense of the health
focus, and that harm reduction and treatment agendas had suffered
as a result.
Despite new money coming into the
drugs field, funding problems still remain, and this is particularly
a problem in drug treatment. It was felt that the funding environment
is constantly changing, it is too complicated and funding is usually
A failure of attempts to reduce the
availability of drugs. It was felt that a lot of resources had
been put into reducing availability, with no apparent success.
Instead, drugs are still freely available and drug problems are
There is a lack of coherent government
coordination of the strategy. It was felt that there is a lack
of coordination both between and from government departments resulting
in poor communication to the field. Also, there is a lack of coherence
between the drug strategy and other national plans, and a constant
change in ideas.
The drug strategy targets are unrealistic
and unworkable, and lack the baseline information necessary to
measure the success of the targets.
DATs are not working as they should,
and are ineffective and unaccountable. There were complaints that
DATs lacked power from not being statutory, and that there was
too much work and not enough support or resources for DATs
The lack of an alcohol strategy was
noted as a major omission.
DTTOs, and to a lesser extent, arrest
referral schemes, were thought to be working badly, being poorly
planned and executed.
As well as these main points, there were several
other frequently made points on how that drug strategy is not
Drug treatment waiting lists remain
Lack of skilled drugs workers and
training for drugs services staff.
Too much focus on a medical treatment
model, and over-relying on methadone prescribing.
Drug education is not working very
There is a lack of good quality young
4.3 Benefits and problems of the crime reduction
What do you see as the benefits/problems associated
with the crime reduction aspects of current drug policy?
Has led to better interagency working
between local partners, with a more joined-up strategy.
Providing treatment to offenders,
diverting people from custody and into treatment. It was thought
that there is now better access and more treatment options open
to this client group.
More funding and resources has been
made available for drug treatment and other drug services.
Society benefits from a reduction
The tension that has been created
between the criminal justice focus and the health focus. It is
thought that the criminal justice requirements have dominated
at the expense of the health agenda, with detrimental effects
for drug treatment and harm reduction efforts.
Offending users being given priority
over non-offending users. It is felt that drug users not involved
in crime (apart from drug use) were being ignored in a two-tier
and discriminatory system, which means that some might commit
crime to get access to treatment.
The criminal justice system creates
and maintains criminals by artificially criminalising people who
would not otherwise be in the criminal justice system. The criminal
justice focus also feeds criminal stereotypes of drug users.
The deep-rooted social causes of
drug misuse are being ignored. It was thought that dealing with
only drugs is counter-productive as they are only part of the
There was dissatisfaction expressed
with the effectiveness of DTTOs. Their effectiveness has still
not been proven, and the coercive nature and structure of DTTOs
4.4 What should happen to Drug Action Teams?
56 per cent of respondents thought that DATs
should be put on a distinctive statutory basis. About a fifth
(21 per cent) thought they should stay as they are (voluntary
partnerships), and less than a tenth (9 per cent) thought they
should be abolished. 14 per cent thought that they should be merged
with other local inter-agency planning groups, such as community
planning groups and crime and disorder partnerships.
4.5 Have the targets set in the national drug
strategies been useful or not useful?
61 per cent thought that the drug strategy targets
were not useful. Reasons for these opinions were as follows:
The overwhelming criticism of the drug strategy
targets was that they were unrealistic and unworkable, because
they were no baselines by which to measure progress of success.
Another reason given for the over-ambitious nature of the targets
was that they were more politically motivated than evidence-based,
and were rushed through with little or no consultation.
Other criticisms of the strategy targets were
that there is not adequate funding to meet the targets, that it
doesn't recognise local variations and needs, and that it ignores
(ii) The majority of respondents who thought
that the strategy targets were useful, did so because they provide
a focus and direction which otherwise may not be there. The strategic
direction was thought to aid partnership working and provide a
focus for funding. However, many of the respondents who thought
that the targets were useful, qualified their statement by also
criticising the targets.
4.6 Future Priorities for tackling drugs in
What should be the top priority for tackling drugs
in the UK?
The largest response by far was drug
treatment. Respondents wanted more treatment services and options
available, as well as calling for more resources for treatment.
As well as these general calls for more treatment, there were
several sub-categories of the wider issue that were identified
as priorities. These were (again in order of prominence):
Improved access to treatment for
allquicker and easier access to treatment, cutting waiting
Ensuring better quality of treatment,
including better-trained staff.
More resources specifically to develop
More services for specialist treatment
(eg stimulant use, those with mental health problems, black and
minority ethnic drug users).
Better coordination of treatment
servicesboth in clear messages from government and for
local agencies to more together more effectively.
Better links to support after treatment
(eg housing and other social support).
More good quality young people's
Review of prescribing, with some
suggesting a greater ability to prescribe heroin.
Pushing harm reduction back up the
Improved drug education and prevention,
and especially improved education and prevention work for young
people, with emphasis placed on early intervention and good quality
drug education in schools.
Change the law on drugs. A wide range
of responses called for changes, ranging from an open debate on
changing the law through to full legislation of all drugs.
Improving social inclusion, by investigating
and tackling the social causes of drug misuse. This would involve
reducing poverty and social exclusion through community regeneration
Reducing drug trafficking and supply.
The focus in this priority should be in tackling large scale drug
dealing and importation of drugs.
There was also a range of other suggestions
for priorities in tackling drugs in the UK. These included:
Review of current drug policy (numerous
suggestions including, making DATs statutory, changing targets,
having more "joined up" policies).
The need for an alcohol strategy.
Better research to inform policy
Better awareness and understanding
of drug issues, both for the public and for politicians.
Reviews of funding (eg moving funding
from criminal justice to health).