Submitted by David Warren
1. UK LEGISLATIONCONTROLLING
1.1 The legislation of controlling drugs
within the UK built up throughout the 20th Century in direct response
to problems arising from the misuse of drugs. In 1916 the Defence
of the Realm Regulations made it an offence to supply Cocaine
and Opiads to members of the Armed Forces without prescription.
(Britain was only too aware of the subversive and destabilising
affects of opiates in view of the way British Traders in the 19th
Century had encouraged the use of such drugs in China and India.)
These regulations were consolidated by the "1920 Dangerous
1.2 After the Egyptian and South African
Governments reported that the widespread use of Cannabis was affecting
the health and fabric of their societies, the "1925 Dangerous
Drug Act" included Cannabis in line with the recommendations
of the Second International Opium conference.
1.3 The "1964 Drug Prevention Misuse
Act" was introduced to control Amphetamines due to growing
concerns about their misuse. In 1966 concerns about the effects
of LSD resulted in the "1966 Drug Prevention Misuse Act Modification
1.4 The "1971 Misuse of Drugs Act"
rationalised the previous piecemeal legislation.
Illegal drugs became the subject of legislation
because of perceived problems.
2.1 Currently there is an anomaly as Opiates
such as Morphine and Heroin can be prescribed for medical use
whereas Cannabis cannot. The therapeutic use of Cannabinoid compounds
should be supported under prescribed conditions if there is scientific
evidence of their medical value.
There are sound arguments for some illegal substances
to be made available for medical purposes.
3.1 As a signatory to three international
agreements on drugs the UK has an obligation under international
law to control specific drugs. Any unilateral decriminalisation
would have the following effects:
(a) The report of the International Narcotics
Control Board for 1997 noted that international drug trafficking
organisations target countries with weak laws on control and this
is not least because these countries attract misusers from other
countries where drugs are less easy to obtain. Therefore, in additional
to increase in Health, Welfare and Treatment costs, due to resident
and immigrant addicts, an escalation in organised criminal activities
could be expected.
(b) Such steps would be a breach of the UK's
international obligations, and extradition difficulties may be
(c) There would be a direct effect on neighbouring
countries. The Netherlands, which has only decriminalised possession
of small amounts of Cannabis has become the focus of "drug
tourism" which has strained relations with its neighbours.
It is estimated that 75 per cent of synethetic drugs seized by
HM Customs are of Dutch origin.
3.2 Research and Medical Evidence show that
all drugs can cause harm if abused. Legalisation would give a
conflicting message ie "if its legal it must be all right
to use". It could also give grounds for civil litigation
ie "I came to harm from using drugs which I thought were
safe because the Government had legalised them."
3.3 In Alaska decriminalisation of Cannabis
was followed by an increase in under-age use and drugs seized.
(Calvert Simon: Decriminalisation of CannabisThe Alaskan
Experiences). After a 10 year period Cannabis was made illegal
again. Professor Griffith Edwards at the National Addiction Centre
has noted that access to drugs has been proved to significantly
encourage the use of drugs.
To legalise or decriminalise any controlled
substance would cause difficulties and should only be considered
in the light of clear evidence that such action would decrease
the problems caused by legislation of such substances and ideally
should not be considered in isolation to other countries.
4. NATIONAL DRUG
4.1 The 1995 First National Drug Strategy"Tackling
Drugs Together" focused on the need for effective drug education,
treatment services and drug enforcement. Drug Action Teams were
established to co-ordinate the delivery of drugs services at a
4.2 The second National Drugs Strategy "To
Build a Better Britain" continued the focus on treatment
education and enforcement but added "supporting communities
against drugs". This second strategy recognised that there
is no short term "fix" and set out a 10-year action
plan to be delivered through the local Drug Action Teams.
5.1 Drug Education has traditionally been
delivered in a haphazard fashion if at all.
5.2 DfEE paper 495, Healthy Schools Programmes,
QUAD standards and OFSTED inspections have improved the quality
of drug education in schools and there is evidence of on-going
improvements. Over the next 12 months Drug Action Teams will be
delivering action plans based on the needs assessments of local
young people using new funding and new resources including those
provided through Youth Offending Teams, Connexions and Crime Reduction
Partnerships. In the main, problems in meeting targets revolve
around poor baselines. Such difficulties have delayed targets
being met in the first two years of the strategy.
With the advent of proper funding and established
baselines different agencies including LEAs, Schools, Youth Services,
Connexions etc are working together more effectively through Drug
Action Teams to deliver drug awareness education.
6.1 In the past drug treatment services
were under-resourced by the National Health Service and were driven
by voluntary groups pursuing their own priorities based on favoured
treatment models (eg harm reduction or 12-step abstinence programmes).
Drug Action Team Joint Commissioning Groups are creating clear,
written contracts, which include quantitative and qualitative
monitoring to ensure drug treatment services are provided to meet
local needs rather than merely what the provider believes is required.
Drug treatment targets were not achieved during
the first two years of the strategy due to unclear baselines,
poor needs assessment and uncoordinated service delivery. Over
the past 12 months with the advent of Joint Commissioning Groups,
better funding and closer co-operation between both Commissioners
and Providers, more and more people are being able to access treatment
services more quickly (in South Gloucestershire there has been
a 150 per cent increase in people accessing treatment services).
7.1 People that are arrested in possession
of Cannabis, are in the main, receiving Police cautions unless
the offence is ancillary to another offence. Increasingly there
is a focus on drug suppliers and Class "A" possessions.
The Police are using drug arrests as opportunities to introduce
users to treatment services rather than merely to punish.
Arrest Referrals and Drug Testing & Treatment
Orders, whilst still at an early stage, have helped not only users
to enter service provision but have also helped change Police
8.1 Until 2001 lack of core funding for
DATs inhibited the progress of local action plans. Since then,
Drug Action Teams have started to obtain funding from the National
Treatment Agency and other central government sources to finance
action plan targets. Since the advent of the National Treatment
Agency funding has improved although the Department of Health,
Department of Education and the Home Office need to consult with
each other prior to setting out project bids ie it is not unusual
for Drug Action Teams to be asked for bids for projects funded
by each of the above departments within days of each other.
More money is not necessarily requiredrather
existing monies allocated for drug use by different government
departments should be co-ordinated or pooled and distributed to
Drug Action Teams on an annual basis to fund annual action plans.
Penalties could be set if action plan targets are not met.
9. DRUG ACTION
9.1 Drug Action Teams have had varying degrees
of success but most have experienced problems through poor target
baselines, the lack of statutory status (some partners need to
be persuaded to attend and support joint actions), unclear standards
and ad hoc short-term funding arrangements. There are signs that
these issues are being addressed and progress on annual action
plans are being achieved.
There is a need for national DAT standards and
for Drug Action Teams to be put on a statutory basis. There are
positive signs that inroads are being made on national targets.
Although there is still much to improve upon, more progress in
tackling drugs has been made in the last three years than in the
previous 30. It is, therefore, too early to consider a change
in direction, rather, minor changes should be made to structures,
monitoring and funding in order to address identified shortfalls.