Criminalisation does not deter people from taking drugs

Terry from uk, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Criminalisation does not deter people from taking drugs

16 September 2023

Despite the billions spent annually on punitive enforcement in an attempt to deter drug use, and the concept of deterrence sitting at the heart of UK and global drug enforcement thinking, it is now clear there is little or no meaningful deterrent effect from arresting, criminalising or punishing people who use drugs.

As long ago as 2006, the UK’s Science and Technology Select Committee found “no solid evidence to support the existence of a deterrent effect, despite the fact that it appears to underpin the Government’s policy on classification” The UK Government responded that it “accepts that there is an absence of conclusive evidence.” Despite the threat of criminalisation people still use drugs - in the UK, three million people did so last year.

In the nearly two decades since that committee report, no such evidence has emerged, despite the Home Office’s commitment to consider ways in which the evidence base in the context of the deterrent effect can be strengthened.”

In fact, the UK Home Office’s 2014 report “Drugs: international comparators” which sought to correct this absence of evidence, instead concluded that “Looking across different countries there is no apparent correlation between the toughness of a country’s approach and the prevalence of adult drug use.” The most recent evaluation of the UK’s drugs strategy noted: “there is, in general, a lack of robust evidence as to whether capture and punishment serves as a deterrent for drug use.