United Kingdom: Reviewing the government’s new ‘tough’ consequences for drug possession


United Kingdom: Reviewing the government’s new ‘tough’ consequences for drug possession

2 August 2022

The Home Office has set out its plans to reduce the current levels of recreational drug use across the UK in its new White Paper Swift, Certain, Tough: new consequences for drug possession. The paper follows on from the Government’s most recent drug strategy; it was promised at the time to address the objective of ‘demand reduction’- reducing use - which the drug strategy mostly overlooked in its focus on service provision.

The White Paper’s demand reduction strategy for ‘so-called recreational users’ proposes a model for public consultation (to be piloted in three locations) for how drug possession offences would be dealt with, summarised in this graphic:

Some elements of the proposals appear relatively promising. At first glance, there seems to be a desire to try and avoid the tens of thousands of people caught committing minor possession offences from being drawn into the criminal justice system. Implicit is an acknowledgement that criminalisation of minor possession is both expensive and counterproductive; there is no evidence that blanket punitive sanctions are an effective deterrent and there is substantive evidence that they fuel stigma, create obstacles to proven public health interventions, and undermine the life chances, particularly of people from socially and economically marginalised communities.

This is why ending criminalisation of people who use drugs is recommended best practice from the Government’s own expert advisers (the ACMD), all 31 lead agencies of the UN including The World Health Organisation and UN Office on Drugs and Crime, as well as the Royal College of Physicians, the UK Faculty of Public health, the Royal Society for Public Health - and many other authoritative voices.