Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda

Annex F



  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 should take:

    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 working.

    —  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 treatment—increasing 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.



3.1  Cannabis

  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 changed.

    —  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 own use.

    —  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 emerge.

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 initiatives—DTTOs, Arrest Referral schemes and CARATs—were 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 too short-term.

    —  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 increasing.

    —  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 working well:

    —  Drug treatment waiting lists remain high.

    —  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 well.

    —  There is a lack of good quality young people's services.

4.3  Benefits and problems of the crime reduction focus

  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 in crime.


    —  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 problem.

    —  There was dissatisfaction expressed with the effectiveness of DTTOs. Their effectiveness has still not been proven, and the coercive nature and structure of DTTOs were criticised.

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:

    (i)  Not useful

  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 alcohol.

    (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 the UK

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 all—quicker and easier access to treatment, cutting waiting times.

    —  Ensuring better quality of treatment, including better-trained staff.

    —  More resources specifically to develop residential rehabilitation.

    —  More services for specialist treatment (eg stimulant use, those with mental health problems, black and minority ethnic drug users).

    —  Better coordination of treatment services—both 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 treatment services.

    —  Review of prescribing, with some suggesting a greater ability to prescribe heroin.

    —  Pushing harm reduction back up the agenda.

    —  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 programmes.

    —  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 development.

    —  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).

September 2001

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Prepared 20 December 2001