Drugs, Crime and ProhibitionCourtesy Transform
- Working for an effective drug policy
Understanding the "link between drugs and crime"
Politicians continue to perpetuate the myth that a "war on
drugs" is effective at reducing crime. In fact the exact opposite
Internal memos from David Blunkett's office show how weak the Government
sees itself on the crime issue. In this context rational discussion
of the efficacy of the drug laws is seen as politically dangerous.
Instead, poor public understanding of the drugs issue is being exploited
for political gains. In the Government's desperation to appear to
be tough on crime, they are gifting the drugs market to the very
people they are attempting to crackdown on.
Government plans to get tougher on drugs will only serve to gladden
the hearts and fill the coffers of organised criminals and unregulated
street dealers across the UK and the world.
How do UK drug laws create crime?
There are four basic ways that drugs prohibition creates crime:
- Any demand-led trade does not go away simply through prohibiting
it. By criminalising drug production and supply the market is
handed over to organised criminals (effectively deregulating the
drugs trade). It is now one of the largest commodity trades in
the world and cannot be stopped by police.
- When the trade is in the hands of organised crime, unregulated
dealers govern supply at street level. The economics of supply
and demand push the price to astronomical levels and a daily habit
becomes prohibitively expensive. Consequently many dependent users
steal to pay for drugs.
- As with alcohol prohibition in the USA during the 20's and 30's,
violent turf wars are provoked as competing criminal networks
battle for control of the hugely lucrative drugs market. Criminal
drug gangs are responsible for much of the armed violence and
bloodshed on the UK's streets.
- The legislation itself can turn otherwise law-abiding people
into criminals purely by outlawing their consumer choice to use
a particular drug. Most drug convictions are for cannabis possession
(100,000+ every year).
Key facts on drugs and crime:
- Half of all property crime (£2 billion) is committed to
support an illegal drug habit.
- Two thirds of repeat offenders are heroin and/or cocaine users.
- 30-40% of the prison population are heroin and cocaine users.
- The UK illegal drug trade is estimated to be worth £10
- £20 billion a year.
- The global illegal drugs trade makes up 8% of international
trade and is valued at £300 billion annually. It one of
the top three largest commodity trades on earth (with arms and
oil) and by far the largest source of income for organised crime.
- The Government plans to spend £1.5 billion of its drugs
budget on enforcing the drug laws over the next three years.
- The Government estimates that it spends well over £1 billion
additionally each year on processing drug law offenders through
the criminal justice system.
- The UK has the highest overall level of drug use in Europe.
- The UK has the highest prison population (per capita) in Europe.
The National Drugs Strategy - Spin and Reality
The 1998 strategy has four 4 key targets for 2008:
||Halve the number of young people using illegal drugs, especially
heroin and cocaine.
||From 1995 - 1999 the percentage of 15-16 year olds who had
used heroin increased from 1.5% to 3.5%. Use of illegal drugs
has increased eightfold among 15 year olds in the last 10 years
and fivefold among 12 year olds (Drugscope).
||Halve the levels of re-offending by drug misusing offenders
to protect communities from drug-related and anti-social behaviour.
||Reality: Firstly this aim excludes alcohol related anti-social
behaviour and secondly it does not reveal that property offenders
only steal to support a heroin habit because of the over inflated
prices of the unregulated illegal market.
||Double the number of drug misusers in treatment.
||Reality: The NTORS study of 1997 showed that for every £1
spent on treatment we save £3 on criminal justice expenditure.
Why then is the Government planning to spend nearly half of
its drug budget on enforcement
|| Halve the availability of drugs, especially heroin and cocaine
on UK streets by 2008.
||There is currently no official monitoring of drug availability,
no baseline data and no methodology for measuring it. The government
does, however, have figures that show that heroin and cocaine
are substantially cheaper and purer than they have ever been
Transform for details). Impressive sounding statistics of
drug seizures "prevented from reaching the streets"
in reality have no measurable impact on availability.
Ten tough drug policy questions for politicians
These questions are designed to challenge policy makers at the heart
of their strategies, and cut through the usual spin that pervades
drug policy debate. If they are pursued they can elicit very interesting
answers. For further information contact
- One of the 4 key goals of the national drugs strategy is the
halving of the availability of heroin and cocaine by 2008, and
25% by 2005. I understand that there is no baseline data on current
availability, or methodology in place for measuring it. So how
do you intend to assess this target?
- 4 million prescription tranquilliser users commit no crime to
support their drug use, yet 200 000 illegal heroin users are committing
half of all property crime. Can you explain this discrepancy?
- Has there ever been an independent audit of the effectiveness
of enforcing our drug laws? Given the huge expense would you support
such an audit to establish whether or not current drugs spending
is cost effective? If not, why?
- The NTORS (National Treatment Outcome Research Study) showed
that for every £1 we spend on treatment, we save £3
on criminal justice costs. Why then do we spend twice as much
on enforcement as we do on treatment?
- The average age of heroin users in Holland is 40 and rising.
The average age of heroin users in the UK is 25 and falling. Why
do you think that this is the case? Do we have anything to learn
from Dutch drug policy?
- Why are tobacco and alcohol excluded from the national drug
- Does enforcing the drug laws contribute to social exclusion?
- There are four basic options for distributing drugs: on prescription,
over the counter from chemists, licensed retail, or the illegal
market. Which method do you think would be the most appropriate
for distributing heroin and crack?
- Why are injecting heroin addicts given clean legal injecting
equipment but then forced to buy dirty illegal street heroin?
- In the Comprehensive Spending Review 2000, the section on the
Cross-Departmental Review of Illegal Drugs says: 'A particular
concern was to focus efforts on tackling the root causes of drug
abuse proactively, rather than reactively subsidising failure.'
(Transform italics) What does this phrase mean?
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