Report of DrugScope members survey on current UK drugs policy carried
out to inform the Home Affairs select committee enquiry on drugs
of DrugScope members survey on current UK drugs policy
surveyed its 900 members in order to inform the Home Affairs Select
Committee of the views of those implementing drug policy on the
ground on what direction policy should take
is overwhelming support for a change in the current legal framework
for controlling cannabis, with 90% thinking that it should be
re-classified to class C.
is significant majority support for the removal of all criminal
sanctions for the possession and confiscation of small quantities
of cannabis for personal use.
is majority support for the change in the current legal framework
for LSD and Ecstasy from class A to class B.
is majority support for shorter sentences for possession of small
quantities of class A drugs, and overwhelming support for the
civil confiscation of proceeds of drug trafficking
main way in which the drug strategy is thought to be working is
in the improvement in local partnership working.
main way in which the drug strategy is thought not to be working
was in the over-emphasis on the criminal justice elements of drug
misuse, and that this focus has had adverse effects on the health
is majority support for DATs being put on a statutory footing.
is majority opinion that drug strategy targets overall are unrealistic
and unworkable because of lack of baseline data to measure progress.
main priority for tackling drugs in the UK should be in drug treatment
- increasing resources to improve access to treatment, the quality
of treatment, and the range of treatment options available.
2. Background and methodology
members were consulted in late August 2001 on their views on a range
of drug law and policy issues in order to inform the Home Affairs
Select Committee enquiry into drug policy. A letter was sent to
all DrugScope members (approximately 900) in August 2001, along
with a questionnaire to complete. DrugScope's member bodies are
drawn from organisations working in drug treatment, prevention and
education, as well as police, probation, prison services, researchers,
academics and those involved in training. Those responding are mostly
nominated representatives of their agency. However, in the time
available to carry out this survey it was seen as unlikely that
representatives would be able to secure full endorsement of their
agency for their submission. They were asked to indicate whether
their personal views were likely to reflect their organisational
position. Only a very small number (2%) thought that their views
would not be supported by their agency.
one third of DrugScope members responded to the survey, giving their
personal views on the drug law and policy issues raised in the questionnaire.
The responses were analysed, using the SPSS software package for
the quantitative data and keyword analysis for the qualitative data.
Drugs and the Law
were asked their opinions on a range of options for the legal status
of cannabis, from the status quo through to full legalisation of
DrugScope members thought that the current legal framework for
cannabis should be changed.
thought that cannabis should be reclassified as a Class C drug.
supported the removal of imprisonment as one of the possible sanctions
for the possession and cultivation of 'small' quantities of cannabis
for own use.
supported the removal of all criminal sanctions for the possession
and cultivation of 'small' quantities of cannabis for own use.
supported the introduction of purely civil penalties (e.g.
a fine) for possession and cultivation of 'small' quantities of
cannabis for own use.
supported a regime involving no sanctions (criminal or civil)
for the possession and cultivation of 'small' quantities of cannabis
for own use, at the same time retaining sanctions for 'large-scale'
supported a 'licensing' system for restricted availability of
supported the full legalisation of the supply, cultivation and
possession of cannabis
3.2 Other drugs
were asked for their opinion on changing the classification on other
drugs (Ecstasy and LSD), current sentencing for drugs offences and
confiscation of proceeds of drug trafficking.
support the reclassification of Ecstasy and related compounds
from Class A to Class B
support transferring LSD from Class A to Class B
support reducing the maximum sentence for possession of 'small'
quantities of Class A drugs from seven years to one year
support the civil confiscation of proceeds of drug trafficking
and other serious crimes as foreseen for the UK in proposed legislation.
4. Drug policy and the national drug strategies
also sought our members' views on various aspects of the drugs strategy,
particularly as to its impact on the ground. The following points
highlight the key responses to emerge.
4.1 How the drug strategy is working
what specific ways is the drugs strategy in your country and/or
the UK drugs strategy working well?
has improved local inter-agency work. Organisations which were
once distinct and separate, are now working together in partnership.
Most of these respondents were positive about the experience of
this joint working. There was recognition that DATs had helped
further partnership work.
has been increased funding and resources made available for drug
treatment, which in turn has led to service development and better
treatment options. There are more resources generally available
to tackle a wide range of drug misuse issues, including education
has increased awareness of drugs issues. It has raised the profile,
helped an informed debate to develop, leading to a better understanding
of the issues involved in tackling drug misuse.
focus on young people, and the increased development of young
people's strategies, has led to better education and prevention
services in schools and elsewhere, and has improved specific young
people treatment options.
new criminal justice initiatives - DTTOs, Arrest Referral schemes
and CARATs - were thought to be working well by some respondents,
increasing treatment options for people who would otherwise not
How the drug strategy is not working
what specific ways is the drugs strategy not working well?
is an over-emphasis on criminal justice elements of drug misuse.
It was largely felt that the focus on criminal justice had been
at the expense of the health focus, and that harm reduction and
treatment agendas had suffered as a result.
new money coming into the drugs field, funding problems still
remain, and this is particularly a problem in drug treatment.
It was felt that the funding environment is constantly changing,
it is too complicated and funding is usually too short-term.
failure of attempts to reduce the availability of drugs. It was
felt that a lot of resources had been put into reducing availability,
with no apparent success. Instead, drugs are still freely available
and drug problems are increasing.
is a lack of coherent government co-ordination of the strategy.
It was felt that there is a lack of coordination both between
and from government departments resulting in poor communication
to the field. Also, there is a lack of coherence between the drug
strategy and other national plans, and a constant change in ideas.
drug strategy targets are unrealistic and unworkable, and lack
the baseline information necessary to measure the success of the
are not working as they should, and are ineffective and unaccountable.
There were complaints that DATs lacked power from not being statutory,
and that there was too much work and not enough support or resources
lack of an alcohol strategy was noted as a major omission
and to a lesser extent, arrest referral schemes, were though to
be working badly, being poorly planned and executed.
well as these main points, there were several other frequently made
points on how that drug strategy is not working well:
treatment waiting lists remain high.
of skilled drugs workers and training for drugs services staff
much focus on a medical treatment model, and over-relying on methadone
education is not working very well
is a lack of good quality young people's services
4.3 Benefits and problems of the crime
do you see as the benefits/problems associated with the crime reduction
aspects of current drug policy?
led to better interagency working between local partners, with
a more joined-up strategy.
treatment to offenders, diverting people from custody and into
treatment. It was thought that there is now better access and
more treatment options open to this client group.
funding and resources has been made available for drug treatment
and other drug services.
benefits from a reduction in crime.
tension that has been created between the criminal justice focus
and the health focus. It is thought that the criminal justice
requirements have dominated at the expense of the health agenda,
with detrimental effects for drug treatment and harm reduction
users being given priority over non-offending users. It is felt
that drug users not involved in crime (apart from drug use) were
being ignored in a two-tier and discriminatory system, which means
that some might to commit crime to get access to treatment.
criminal justice system creates and maintains criminals by artificially
criminalising people who would not otherwise be in the criminal
criminal justice focus also feeds criminal stereotypes of drug
deep-rooted social causes of drug misuse are being ignored. It
was thought that dealing with only drugs is counter-productive
as they are only part of the problem
was dissatisfaction expressed with the effectiveness of DTTOs.
Their effectiveness has still not been proven, and the coercive
nature and structure of DTTOs were criticised.
4.4 What should happen to Drug Action Teams?
of respondents thought that DATs should be put on a distinctive
statutory basis. About a fifth (21%) thought they should stay as
they are (voluntary partnerships), and less than a tenth (9%) thought
they should be abolished. 14% thought that they should be merged
with other local inter-agency planning groups, such as Community
planning groups and crime and disorder partnerships
4.5 Have the targets set in the national
drug strategies been useful or not useful?
thought that the drug strategy targets were not useful. Reasons
for these opinions were as follows:
The overwhelming criticism of the drug strategy targets was that
they were unrealistic and unworkable, because there were no baselines
by which to measure progress of success. Another reason given for
the over-ambitious nature of the targets was that they were more
politically motivated than evidence-based, and were rushed though
with little or no consultation.
criticisms of the strategy targets were that there is not adequate
funding to meet the targets, that it doesn't recognise local variations
and needs, and that it ignores alcohol.
The majority of respondents who thought that the strategy targets
were useful, did so because they provide a focus and direction which
otherwise may not be there. The strategic direction was thought
to aid partnership working and provide a focus for funding. However,
many of the respondents who thought that the targets were useful,
qualified their statement by also criticising the targets.
Future priorities for tackling drugs in the UK
should be the top priority for tackling drugs in the UK?
largest response by far was drug treatment. Respondents wanted more
treatment services and options available, as well as calling for
more resources for treatment. As well as these general calls for
more treatment, there were several sub-categories of the wider issue
that were identified as priorities.These
were (again in order of prominence):
access to treatment for all - quicker and easier access to treatment,
cutting waiting times.
better quality of treatment, including better-trained staff.
resources specifically to develop residential rehabilitation.
services for specialist treatment (e.g. stimulant use, those with
mental health problems, black and minority ethnic drug users).
co-ordination of treatment services - both in clear messages from
government and for local agencies to more together more effectively.
links to support after treatment (e.g. housing and other social
good quality young people's treatment services.
of prescribing, with some suggesting a greater ability to prescribe
harm reduction back up the agenda.
drug education and prevention, and especially improved education
and prevention work for young people, with emphasis placed on
early intervention and good quality drug education in schools.
the law on drugs. A wide range of responses called for changes,
ranging from an open debate on changing the law through to full
legalisation of all drugs.
social inclusion, by investigating and tackling the social causes
of drug misuse. This would involve reducing poverty and social
exclusion through community regeneration programmes.
drug trafficking and supply. The focus in this priority should
be in tackling large scale drug dealing and importation of drugs.
was also a range of other suggestions for priorities in tackling
drugs in the UK. These included:
of current drug policy (numerous suggestions including, making
DATs statutory, changing targets, having more 'joined up' policies).
need for an alcohol strategy.
research to inform policy development.
awareness and understanding of drugs issues, both for the public
and for politicians.
of funding (e.g. moving funding from criminal justice to health.