British drugs policy is punitive and contradictory. And now it’ll go backwards

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British drugs policy is punitive and contradictory. And now it’ll go backwards

3 August 2022

By Kojo Koram / The Guardian

Despite the irrepressible love that Boris Johnson’s government has shown for illegal parties, it is now taking the opportunity to tighten drug laws on its way out of the door. There is perhaps no more fitting tribute to the hypocrisy of this government than the latest drugs proposal from the Home Office.

Research shows these policies disproportionately affect the poorest and most vulnerable communities and racial minorities, and contribute to higher rates of imprisonment among these groups. Yet the government has spent the last few years taking every opportunity to insist that drug prohibition would magically work if it instead targeted “middle-class” drug users. The white paper was meant to be the moment when we found out how this new plan would be achieved. Perhaps arresting someone for drug possession would now be followed by a test of their middle-class credentials: could they distinguish the salad fork from the dessert fork? What’s their reaction to Mumford & Sons? In the end, it turns out that the strategy for attacking “recreational users” is just a mix of tough language and overt cruelty wrapped around a tacit recognition that the mass criminalisation of drug users is utterly pointless.

These new proposals also include a “three-tier” system of escalating punishment, which echoes the notorious “three strikes” system in the US that resulted in waves of incarceration during the 1990s. This white paper policy is less extreme but nonetheless draconian: if the offender doesn’t pay the fixed-penalty notice or attend the drug-awareness course, they could be prosecuted. If arrested a second time, they’re issued with a caution alongside another drug-awareness course and a period of mandatory drug testing. Finally, if caught a third time, the offender would be charged and, if convicted, subject to new civil court orders that could exclude them from bars, confiscate their passport or driving licence and place them in ankle tags to monitor their blood for drugs. Any failure to comply could result in prison.