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The Government's Drugs Policy: Is it working?

Home Affairs Committee, House of Commons UK

Wednesday 22 May

"The Government's Drugs Policy: Is it working?"

Report published

The Home Affairs Select Committee has called for a major shake-up of the Government's drugs policy, concentrating on education and harm reduction for users rather than criminal sanctions.

In its long awaited report, supported by all but one member, the Committee has recommended that cannabis be reclassified as a class C drug and ecstasy as class B. It also recommends the creation of a new offence of "supply for gain" in order that the distinction between so-called social supply and dealing is clearly reflected in the available penalties.

The Committee says the main focus should be on the 250,000 "problematic users"-mainly heroin addicts-whose habit causes most damage to themselves and others. It recommends a trial programme of carefully supervised heroin prescription to addicts along the lines of those under way in The Netherlands and Switzerland.

The Committee also recommends a pilot programme of safe-injecting rooms in order to get chronic heroin users off the street and into a more orderly environment. This would require amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 allowing drugs agencies to work with users and to allow pharmacists to supply drug users with goods that reduce risk.

However, the Committee firmly rejected calls for legalisation and regulation. It said: "We acknowledge there are some attractive arguments. However, those who urge this step upon us are...asking us to gamble the undoubted potential gains against the inevitability of a significant increase in the number of users, especially among the very young". The Committee declined to recommend decriminalisation on the same grounds.

Chairman, Chris Mullin MP said: "All drug use is to a greater or lesser extent harmful and should be discouraged. However, we have to face the fact that, whether we like it or not, large numbers of young people take drugs. As far as users are concerned, our priorities should be realistic education, readily available treatment and harm reduction. Above all, we need to focus on that relatively small minority of drug users who are making a misery of their own lives and those of others. The criminal law should be reserved primarily for dealers. Government policy is already moving in that direction and I hope this report will encourage ministers to go further".

David Cameron MP, Conservative member of the Committee said: "Drugs policy in this country has been failing for decades. Drug abuse has increased massively, the number of drug-related deaths has risen substantially and drug-related crime accounts for up to half of all acquisitive crime. I hope that our report will encourage fresh thinking and a new approach. We need to get away from entrenched positions and try to reduce the harm that drugs do both to users and society at large."

Liberal Democrat member of the Committee Bob Russell MP said: "The inquiry confirmed that the overwhelming majority of the population does not take illegal drugs, and never has done. Even among young people it was reassuring that most of them do not take drugs. I recognise, however, that there is a minority which uses harmful drugs for self-abuse of their bodies and minds. Balanced laws and regulations need to take account of such use and misuse. The overall cost to society, specifically to the National Health Service and the consequences of criminal activity, caused by the current levels of drug abuse has to be addressed. The only acceptable use of drugs is for medical purposes."


1. We believe that drugs policy should primarily be addressed to dealing with the 250,000 problematic drug users (paragraph 38).

2. While acknowledging that there may come a day when the balance may tip in favour of legalising and regulating some types of presently illegal drugs, we decline to recommend this drastic step (paragraph 66).

3. We accept that to decriminalise possession of drugs for personal use would send the wrong message to the majority of young people...and that it would inevitably lead to an increase in drug abuse. We, therefore, reject decriminalisation (paragraph 74).

4. We are not persuaded that an intent to supply should be presumed on the basis of amounts of drugs found; we therefore recommend that the offences of simple possession and possession with intent to supply should be retained without alteration (paragraph 77).

5. We recommend that a new offence is created of "supply for gain", which would be used to prosecute large scale commercial suppliers (paragraph 83).

6. We support...the Home Secretary's proposal to reclassify cannabis from Class B to Class C (paragraph 121).

7. We...recommend that ecstasy is reclassified as a Class B drug (paragraph 135).

8. We recommend that the number of treatment places for cocaine users is substantially increased. We recommend that resources are channelled into researching and piloting innovative treatment interventions for cocaine users (paragraph 140).

9. We consider that the risks posed by cocaine to the user and to other people merit it remaining a Class A drug (paragraph 141).

10. We recommend that more treatment places are created for crack users and that resources be channelled into researching and piloting more effective treatments. We further recommend that in the meantime efforts are redoubled to extinguish supply of crack cocaine (paragraph 147).

11. We recommend that the Government substantially increases the funding for treatment for heroin addicts and ensure that methadone treatments and complementary therapies are universally available to those who need them (paragraph 160).

12. We recommend that appropriate treatment forms a mandatory part of custodial sentences and that offenders have access to consistent treatment approaches within the prison estate as well as outside it. This should include strictly supervised methadone treatment in the first instance (paragraph 169).

13. We recommend that a proper evaluation is conducted of diamorphine prescribing for heroin addiction in the compared with methadone prescribing regimes (paragraph 178).

14. We recommend that the guidance and training provided to practitioners prescribing diamorphine to heroin addicts is strengthened (paragraph 179).

15. We recommend that an evaluated pilot programme of safe injecting houses for heroin users is established without delay and that if...this is successful, the programme is extended across the country (paragraph 186).

16. We conclude that the Dutch and Swiss evidence provides a strong basis on which to conduct a pilot here in Britain of highly structured heroin prescribing to addicts. We recommend that a pilot along the lines of the Swiss or Dutch model is conducted in the UK. Should such a pilot generate the positive results which one would expect...we recommend that such a system should supersede the little-used "British system" of licencing (paragraph 190).

17. We believe that all drugs education material should be based on the premise that any drug use can be harmful, and should be discouraged (paragraph 201).

18. We conclude that General Practitioners are, for the most part, inadequately trained to deal with drug misuse. We recommend that training in substance misuse is embedded in the undergraduate medical curriculum and postgraduate General Practice curriculum...We recommend that the Department of Health funds

more training courses in substance misuse for existing General Practitioners (paragraph 218).

19. We recommend that a target is added to the National Strategy explicitly aimed at harm reduction and public health (paragraph 245).

20. We recommend that the Government reviews Section 9A of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, with a view to repealing it, to allow for the provision of drugs paraphernalia which reduces the harm caused by drugs (paragraph 252).

21. We recommend that Section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is amended to ensure that drugs agencies can conduct harm reduction work and provide safe injecting areas for users without fear of being prosecuted (paragraph 257).

22. We recommend that the Home Office and the Department of Health urgently review the current legal framework on the dispensation of controlled drugs by community pharmacists (paragraph 260).

23. We recommend that Drug Abstinence Orders are amended to carry the requirement of access to treatment (paragraph 264).

24. We recommend that the Government initiates a discussion within the Commission on Narcotic Drugs of alternative ways-including the possibility of legalisation and regulation-to tackle the global drugs dilemma (paragraph 267).

Note to Editors

Details of this inquiry were set out in press notice no. 1.

Home Affairs Committee membership and links to the text of Committee reports, minutes of evidence and

press notices can be accessed through the Internet at Parliament's website above. Also available on the

Committee's Internet site are past reports and uncorrected transcripts of evidence given by Ministers.

Home Affairs Committee

The Home Affairs Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department, and their associated public bodies; and the administration and expenditure of the Attorney General's Office, the Treasury Solicitor's Department, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Serious Fraud Office.


Chairman: Mr Chris Mullin MP (Labour, Sunderland South)

Mr David Cameron MP (Conservative, Witney)

Mrs Janet Dean MP (Labour, Burton)

Mr Humfrey Malins MP (Conservative, Woking)

Bridget Prentice MP (Labour, Lewisham East)

Mr Gwyn Prosser MP (Labour, Dover)

Bob Russell MP (Liberal Democrat, Colchester)

Mr Marsha Singh MP (Labour, Bradford West)

Angela Watkinson MP (Conservative, Upminster)

Mr Tom Watson MP (Labour, West Bromwich East)

David Winnick MP (Labour, Walsall North)


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