Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by David Warren


  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 Drugs Act".

  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 Order".

  1.4  The "1971 Misuse of Drugs Act" rationalised the previous piecemeal legislation.

1.5  Conclusion

  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.

2.2  Conclusion

  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 expected.

    (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 Cannabis—The 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.

3.4  Conclusion

  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.


  4.1  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 local level.

  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.

5.3  Conclusion

  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.

6.2  Conclusion

  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.

7.2  Conclusion

  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 attitudes.


  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.

8.2  Conclusion

  More money is not necessarily required—rather 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.


  9.1  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.

9.2  Conclusion

  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.

September 2001

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 20 December 2001