Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by Transform


  1.  Transform is the leading independent UK organisation campaigning for a just and effective drug policy. We exist to minimise drug-related harm to individuals and communities and believe that this is best achieved by legalising drugs. We provide authoritative and accurate information to increase understanding, encourage debate and influence policy.

  Our aims are:

    —  To repeal drugs prohibition and replace it with an effective system of regulation and control.

    —  To establish an independent coordinating agency to oversee the production, supply and use of all drugs.

    —  To implement ethical practices and fair trade in drug production and supply.

    —  To eliminate the criminal market and reduce drug-related crime and violence.

    —  To tax all drugs and redirect criminal justice expenditure to increase treatment services and education programmes.

    —  To promote and protect the health and well-being of users and non-users alike.

    —  To uphold the civil rights of users and non-users alike.

    —  To encourage community involvement in drug policy formation.

  2.  We have six years experience of lobbying for drug law reform and our supporters include: Francis Wilkinson (former Chief Constable), Iain Banks (author of the Wasp Factory), Paul Flynn MP and Edward Ellison (former head of the Metropolitan police drug squad).


  3.  The early seventies were a turning point in contemporary UK drug policy. There were a number of factors that coincided to create what is now a massive problem for all of us.

    (i)  The end of heroin prescribing to dependent users.

    (ii)   The introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 criminalised millions of recreational users and thousands of misusers (previously patients).

    (iii)  A massive increase in the prevalence of drug use. In 1970 there were just over 1,000 heroin users. By 2000 that figure had grown to at least 200,000.

    (iv)  An increasing gap between rich and poor that has fuelled social exclusion.

  4.  These events conspired to leave the UK with the highest levels of drug use and misuse in Europe and one of the most counterproductive policies to manage them.


  5.  All the evidence shows that UK drug policy has been an unmitigated disaster. Drug-related crime, death, destruction of inner city communities, billions in wasted expenditure and the loss of political autonomy of developing countries are the price we have paid for global prohibition. Prohibition is a recipe for disaster. We would be hard pressed to find a system with a higher propensity to lead to crime, social exclusion, violence, prostitution and general misery.

  6.  Research by Transform has revealed that data is only being collected on one of the 4 key performance indicators put in place monitor the effectiveness of the UK's 10-year drug strategy. The only data that is emerging clearly shows an alarming rise in cocaine and heroin use amongst young people.

The 1998 strategy has 4 key targets for 2008: So after four years is there any evidence the 10 year strategy is delivering?

  7.  Aim 1: Halve the number of young people using illegal drugs, especially heroin and cocaine.

  Reality: This year's European Survey project on Alcohol and other Drugs showed that compared with 1995, for all regions of the UK only two drugs showed significantly increased use by 15-16 year olds. These were heroin and cocaine. A raft of other surveys (including the British Crime Survey, and Professor Howard Parker's Drug Futures) have shown that cocaine use is on the increase.

  8.  Aim 2: Halve the levels of re-offending by drug misusing offenders to protect communities from drug-related and anti-social behaviour.

  Reality: There is no national monitoring of this indicator and baseline data will not be available until Spring 2002.

  9.  Aim 3: Double the number of drug misusers in treatment.

  Reality: There is still no national monitoring of this indicator and no baseline data with which to make future comparisons. The methodology for measuring this indicator will not be in place until 2002. Huge waiting lists remain in all regions and despite increased investment (largely administered through the criminal justice system) the need still vastly outweighs the provision.

  10.  Aim 4: Halve the availability of drugs, especially heroin and cocaine on UK streets by 2008.

  Reality: There is currently no official monitoring of drug availability, no baseline data and no methodology for measuring it. Impressive sounding statistics of drug seizures "prevented from reaching the streets" in reality have no measurable impact on availability. Data showing falling price and rising purity of street drugs strongly suggests increasing availability. Recent data from the national Criminal Intelligence Service, the Forensic Science Service, and some regional police test purchasing suggests that cocaine has never been cheaper.


  11.  In Transform's view prohibition has caused or created many of the problems associated with the use and misuse of drugs. As with alcohol prohibition in the US in the twenties and thirties, drugs prohibition effectively hands the trade over to organised crime and unregulated dealers. Government abrogates all responsibility for the management of the supply side of the market and chaos prevails. The illicit drugs market is probably the most free and deregulated commodity market on the planet, constituting nearly 10 per cent of international trade and valued at £300 billion a year.

  Only the legalisation, regulation and control of the supply side of the currently illicit drugs industry will enable us to manage the market.

  12.  Decriminalisation, rescheduling and depenalisation only reduce the problems on the consumer side of the trade. It is crucial that we tackle the supply side of the industry to stand a chance of managing it effectively in any way whatsoever. This can not be done under existing international treaties and it would be inadvisable for a single country to do this unilaterally.


  13.  There are six options for controlling drugs and their distribution listed below.

    (a)  Free and natural eg raw magic mushrooms, poppies, fly agaric toadstools, datura, morning glory seeds.

    (b)  Over the counter sales—supermarkets, grocers, health food shops. eg aspirin, paracetamol, poppers, glue, St John's Wort, tea, coffee.

    (c)  Licensed sales eg beer, spirits, tobacco.

    (d)  Pharmacy sales. eg Kaolin and morphine, codeine linctus, amphetamine-like decongestants, Dual products aspirin/paracetamol with dihydrocodeine.

    (e)  Doctor's prescription eg tranquillisers, anti-depressants, methadone, chlorpromazine, anti-psychotics, thalidomide, diamorphine.

    (f)  Criminal marketplace (Prohibition) eg Heroin, cannabis, speed, crack.

  14.  Legalisation means simply making use of one of the first five options. Options (b)-(d) afford Government many opportunities to intervene in the production, supply and use of drugs. Option (f)—prohibition—effectively removes those opportunities. In Transform's view drugs should be legalised because they are dangerous not because they are safe.


  15.  Legalisation does not necessarily mean an increase in availability. In the short term a move to prescribe heroin to dependent users could actually reduce availability.

  16.  In the short term, however, a move to legally retail currently prohibited drugs could mean an increase in use. The questions are (1) What percentage of this increased use would be problematic? and (2) What would those problems involve? Currently 12 million dependent tobacco users pay for their health care and commit no property crime and the one million dependent prescription tranquilliser users do not find themselves on drug treatment and testing orders because their drug of choice is cheap and available.

  17.  The evidence from Holland (a decriminalised rather than legalised system) is that their level of cannabis use is lower than the UK's. The average age of heroin users in Holland is 36 and rises year on year, whilst in the UK it is 26 and falls each year.


  18.  Prohibition creates or exacerbates four types of crime:

    —  Organised crime is handed the illegal trade on a plate and now makes most of its profits from dealing illegal drugs.

    —  Property crime committed by users to support expensive habits because prices are determined by supply and demand rather than the Chancellor.

    —  Violence involved in turf wars between dealers.

    —  Otherwise law abiding individuals are criminalised by anti-drug legislation.

  All the above are massively reduced or disappear when drugs are legalised.


  19.  An effective drug policy would enable the following to take place:

    —  facilitate control and regulation of the drug trade;

    —  reduce drug-related ill health;

    —  reduce drug-related crime;

    —  extend provision of honest and effective drug education and information;

    —  maximise effectiveness of drug-related expenditure and taxation of drug trade;

    —  protect civil rights of drug users and non-users;

    —  encourage inclusion of communities in drug policy formation; and

  20.  Up until now our enforcement policy has gone unevaluated and what evaluation there has been is seriously flawed. UKADCU now admits that its targets were mistaken. It is time that we used coherent aims with clear indicators of success or failure. From the above broad aims we need to produce a set of indicators that will show success or failure. For instance: rates of HIV, level of crime related to fundraising, adherence to human rights instruments, average of users, value of the illegal market, level of prostitution related to drug misuse etc.

  21.  In Transform's view, our drug policy, whether it be criminal justice or health-oriented, should show success across a series of indicators. The weighting of those indicators should be decided upon by a multi-disciplinary group of experts and lay people.

  22.  We have included a detailed framework for drug policy implementation in the accompanying document.


  23.  Government should admit that the war on drugs has been lost and begin to plan a replacement for prohibition. Projects that could be put in motion now include:


  24.  First we need an evidence base to show what works and what does not. The National Audit Office audit of Customs and Excise on drug smuggling showed that they made little or no difference to the availability of drugs in the UK. We can assume that there are many other areas of activity that are failing to deliver or producing counterproductive results.


  25.  Whilst Transform ultimately calls for the legalisation of drugs, that can only happen in conjunction with other countries and after the rewriting of the international treaties. In the meantime, decriminalisation would remove criminal sanctions from users and enable resources to be focused in more useful areas.


  25.  A useful short term measure that serves two objectives: putting health firmly back in control of misuse and pointing to the need to reallocate resources from criminal justice to more effective health expenditure. This is very much in line with the 1997 research from the National Treatment Outcome Research Study (NTORS) that showed that for every £1 that we spend on treatment, we save £3 on criminal justice expenditure. We could start with some small scale studies, perhaps targeting women sex workers with problematic use.


  27.  A new agency National Drugs Agency (NDA) or the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) should begin to explore alternatives to prohibition. The time has passed to debate whether we explore alternatives. Now we must investigate how we control and regulate the drugs market.

September 2001

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