Supplementary memorandum submitted by
the Home Office following its oral evidence of 30 October 2001
When talking about the various models for drug
controls, there is sometimes an understandable confusion about
the terminology. While there is no agreed international definition
for all the terms, the Home Office uses the following definitions:
A system under which the unlawful possession,
cultivation, supply and import/export of controlled drugs are
criminal offences. Most western countries follow this model.
There are a number of variants, but the basic
principle is that some or all drug activities are prohibited but
punishable under civil, not criminal law.
(a) Totalno legislative or
(b) Regulatoryvarious models,
but common theme is that the Government controls some or all of
the activities. Controls on sales to certain age groups (eg alcohol
and tobacco) are examples.
Advocates of legalisation suggest the following
1. Reduction in deaths and illness due to
drugs sourced from the criminal market.
2. Reduction in crimeacquisitive crime
to feed a drug habit and "turf wars" between suppliers.
3. Taxation revenues would benefit the Government
not the criminals.
Before looking at each hypothesis it is important
to look at the impact on use. Even those who advocate legalisation
recognise that there arguments are damaged if legalisation leads
to a significant increase in use. The following points need to
Prohibition deters experimentation.
30 per cent of adults questioned by MORI for the Police Foundation
Inquiry cited illegality as the main reason for not taking drugs.
Perhaps more significant, are the findings of the 1998-99 Youth
Lifestyle survey. 64 per cent of respondents to this survey who
had never taken cannabis before agreed with the statement "I
do not take cannabis because it is against the law". Evidence
suggests that the earlier young people are when they first experiment
with drugs the more likely they are to develop problematic drug,
so prohibition can also act as a deterrent for young people;
Holland. The Dutch coffee shop policy
was formally adopted in 1976. The evidence suggests, that although
the policy itself did not lead to an immediate increase in use,
the commercialisation that followed the growth of coffee shops
did. Since 1983, four published national surveys of drug use in
the Netherlands, in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 1996 have shown a substantial
increase in reported lifetime prevalence. For example, prevalence
among 18 year olds was 15 per cent in 1984, but reached 44 per
cent by 1996. While there is no UK data for the same period, the
Dutch increases are totally different from experiences in the
USA which showed a marked downward trend between these years.
It should also be noted that Dutch cannabis use had been declining
somewhat in the years prior to the 1976 change. To rebut these
arguments it is suggested that Dutch rates have not risen above
UK prevalence rates. This is true, but misses the point about
the impact of the coffee shop policy;
Legalisation of cannabis was given
the go-ahead in Alaska in 1975. By 1990 the State had voted to
recriminalise. In the intervening period, State and national surveys
showed a significant disparity in prevalence. For example, the
1982 US National Household Survey and a survey done the same year
by University of Alaska School of Addiction found that 49.5 per
cent of the State's 12-17 year olds had used cannabis compared
with 26.7 per cent nationally. Similar surveys in 1985 showed
that the State prevalence for this age group had risen to 51.6
per cent compared to 23.7 per cent nation-wide; and
alcohol and tobacco. Research undertaken
by the Office for National Statistics in 1999 showed that 35 per
cent of 15 year olds surveyed had taken a controlled drug at some
time. But 61 per cent had tried tobacco and 84 per cent alcohol.
The cost to the Criminal Justice
System of drug offences is £1.2 billion a year. (Course:
the Economic and Social costs of crimeHome Office Research
Study 217). But not all drug related crime is to feed the drug
habit. Research by the Department of Justice in America has shown
that six times the number of murders occur under the influence
of drugs as are committed to obtain money to buy them. And those
career criminals who engage in "turf wars" are highly
unlikely to stop their illegal activities simply because drugs
are legalised; they would seek new courses of illicit revenue
and crime. Organised crime activity in the United States did not
disappear after the repeal of prohibition.
See AnnexAdditional evidence
from the Home Office for the Home Affairs Committee enquiry: Comments
in response to articles by Nick Davies, The Guardian.
Regulated markets do not eliminate
illicit supplies (eg alcohol and tobacco smuggling);
regulation carries its own administrative
and enforcement costs. Unless drugs were freely available to everyone,
including children, it would not be possible to stop the black
market operating at the margins of the regulated system; and
taxation would certainly bring revenue
to the Exchequer and this could be used to help offset the public
health costs of increased use. But establishing the level of taxation
would be difficult. Setting the price too high, would open the
door for the illegal market. Setting it too low could feed that
market. It is important to remember that the current street prices
of drugs, which are in essence agricultural or semi-refined agricultural
products reflect the illegality and the risks to the supplier.
For example the Rand Institute in the United States has estimated
that the street price of cocaine is more than 30 times its production
We have not carried out a detailed
analysis of the effects of decriminalisation. This is not a model
broadly favoured by any party to the drug debate, because it leaves
supply in the hands of the criminals. But the argument in favour
of decriminalisation is that it would not criminalise the user.
The Government sees the following disadvantages to decriminalisation.
Criminal Justice interventions with
problem drug users can have a positive effect in reducing drug
misuse and drug related crime. An evaluation of the pilot arrest
referral scheme found that one in two offenders were no longer
using illegal opiates or stimulants six to eight months after
referral. We have developed a number of interventions in the Criminal
Justice System which provide opportunities at different points
in the system to maximise engagement particularly for those who
have already accessed treatment. The points of access are at the
point of arrestarrest referral schemes; at court, Drug
Treatment and Testing Orders; in custody mandatory drug testing
in prisons and the CARATS programme. The system of civil penalties
could include treatment requirements, but without sanctions there
would be no way to coerce the treatment.
The current Criminal Justice System
allows for the exercise of considerable discretion when dealing
with drug offenders. Informal warnings, cautions, fines and court
appearances are all options. Models of decriminalisation tend
to be less flexible. For example, the South Australia Expiation
Notice system saw the number of cannabis offenders dealt with
increase by almost three-fold in the five years between 1988 and
Operating a civil penalty system
does not avoid utilising police resources and time. The system
has its own costs. Using the South Australia model again, most
offenders (about 55 per cent) are not paying their fines. This
results in prosecution with all the attendant costs and leads
in practice to heavier penalties than would be the case had a
criminal penalty been imposed in the first instancethe
number in prison for cannabis offences increased as a consequence.