The Decriminalisation of Possession of Drugs

When it comes to the subject of illegal drugs in this country, it would appear that we all have a strong opinion to air on the matter. We are all filled with fear over the prospect of a child or other family member becoming embroiled in a drug-dependent lifestyle and therefore fully recognise why there are criminal sanctions in place to control things. However, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) fervently believe that prosecuting people who are found in possession of drugs is not the right way forward in this country, and they even recently furnished the Government with such a recommendation for decriminalisation.

The ACMD stated that bringing criminal proceedings against people found in possession of drugs – any drugs – is not the right way forward. They maintain that this often proves to be counterproductive and leads to people being labelled with a criminal record for a problem that they may have been coerced into by others and never really knew what they were doing. Educational and fully supportive programmes are needed for such people, in order to show them that such a lifestyle is not the right way for them.

The ACMD also said that they believe that labelling people found in possession of drugs can also be responsible for such individuals going on to become repeat offenders: if the matter were dealt with at a civil level, they insist that these statistics would reduce and millions of pounds would be saved by the police, court system and probation service each and every year which could be better spent in helping these people successfully rebuild their lives.

The country of Portugal adopted this approach to civil law control over the possession of drugs as far back as 2001, and the ACMD have stated that the fine system in operation there (similar to fixed-penalty notices here in the UK) appears to be working extremely well and could achieve the same encouraging results in this country.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the Government (Home Office) vehemently disagrees and completely dismissed the findings of the ACMD. They stated that they were not about to start liberalising drug laws in this country. They went on to say, “We are taking action through tough enforcement, both inland and abroad, alongside introducing temporary banning powers and robust treatment programmes that lead people into drug-free recovery.”

However, I think many of us would admit that from what we have seen and heard, there really does not seem to be much evidence of ‘robust treatment programmes’ in operation at the moment. The law is quite simple when it comes to the possession of drugs: there are different classifications based on the perceived level of harm a narcotic is likely to cause, and a person is sentenced in accordance with this classification if found with illegal substances on his or her person. This can mean prison sentences for many; whilst in custody, it seems to be the case that where there are any rehabilitative treatment programmes available, they are failing pitifully, as the level of re-offending in this area of criminal law is astronomically and unacceptably high.

It really is such a tricky business having to enforce any type of law where illegal drugs are concerned. As we have already touched upon above, many people can become tangled up in this kind of lifestyle when they are extremely young and impressionable; surely we do not advocate a criminal record for them and harsh criminal sanctions? But, as things within our legal system currently stand, this is exactly what we are doing.

Of course, the Government are afraid to make a significant amendment to the law on the possession of drugs, as they feel the public will primarily be against such a move. However, something really does need to be done regarding the draconian laws that are currently in place to deal with such matters as nothing appears to be working at the moment.