Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by the Life Education Centres

  Life Education Centres is a registered national charity which provides education about healthy living and drug prevention to 700,000 United Kingdom primary school children each year, and works with over 25 per cent of LEAs

  There is evidence that primary prevention education programmes are effective in reducing drug use in young people or delaying experimentation.

  We note that the British Crime Survey has shown that the percentage of 16 to 19 year olds using drugs in the past year has fallen from 34 per cent to 27 per cent between 1994 and 2000. However, use of Class "A" drugs such as ecstasy and crack cocaine continues to rise along with underage drinking of alcohol.


  Although the existing policy may be effective in reducing overall drug use, drug-related deaths or crime, it is not reducing hard drug use perhaps because of increasingly aggressive targeted marketing. We consider that a major reason for this is the failure to consider prevention in terms of deterring people from starting to use drugs (primary prevention). The concept of prevention is currently directed to harm limitation, because it is now widely and incorrectly accepted that most people will try drugs. Once this assumption has been made, the only way to tackle the problem is by preventing drug-related harm. Primary prevention is a critical aspect of existing drug policy which has been largely overlooked. The document, Protecting Young People (DFE, 1998) highlights the importance of such primary education and quotes research indicating that "continuing programmes of life skills based drug education, starting at an early age, can have an impact in first use of drugs by young people". (Wragg, 1990).

  The document goes on to state that "this is significant because there is a correlation between early use of tobacco and alcohol and early experimentation with illegal drugs which, in turn, is a indicator for more frequent and problematic drug use later on".

  This well documented research clearly highlights the need for effective and planned drug education and the 1997 Ofsted report "Drug Education in Schools", states that "effective teaching of drug education should increase pupils' knowledge about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs". It goes on to detail the particular skills and attitudes which need to be developed and the appropriate varied and interactive teaching methods required to facilitate this.


  2.1  The most important effect of decriminalisation of an illicit drug such as cannabis is the signal it would send out to young people, indicating that either the Government considers cannabis to be safe or the Government approves of drug use or the Government has given up its struggle against drugs. Either way this would be likely to lead to an increase in drug use, both of cannabis and also of harder drugs, particularly cocaine even if the policy towards these did not change.

  2.2  Following decriminalisation the demand for drugs would predictably lead to an increase in use by inexperienced users, and this would lead to increased numbers of drug-related deaths. It is perhaps significant and therefore worthy of note that the drugs which cause the majority of deaths are the legal drugs, tobacco and alcohol. It could therefore be concluded that increasing the number of legal drugs would also lead to a rise in the number of drug-related deaths

  2.3  Decriminalisation would not reduce drug-related crime. It is more likely to result in an increase due to wider use of heroin and cocaine. The wider use of drugs which is likely to arise from decriminalisation may well result in an increase to street prices which will, in turn, increase the cost of addiction and with that crime to fund that addiction. There is also a scenario that drug dealers, who are often addicted to drugs themselves, would be motivated to sell more and more harmful drugs, often to young people who have become their main market.

  2.4  The request for submissions does not address impact on other health effects (such as effects on memory, mental health problems, cannabis-related malignancy etc) which would also become apparent with time. Neither does it address the very real problem of underperformance in schools and inability to keep a job.


  3.1  For the reasons stated, decriminalisation is not desirable. Reclassification is an alternative. The most important alternative strategy is education for primary prevention which needs to underpin any secondary and tertiary prevention. It is well known for example that heroin use is extremely rare in those who have not smoked cigarettes or who have not smoked cannabis. If an education programme could be implemented which deters young people from taking up cigarettes or cannabis, we predict that drug use would go down.

  3.2  If the Government should consider that decriminalisation or reclassification of cannabis is the best way of dealing with the problem, this submission makes it clear that the key to successfully implementing such a policy lies in a prolonged and intensive educational preparation. Smoking, in the population as a whole, has decreased largely because of educational measures, and cannabis use could similarly be reduced by appropriately directing public awareness. Education directed towards primary prevention is likely to be most effective, because drug use often starts early in life, in particular use of legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco and young people are the most vulnerable group at the present time.

September 2001

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