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"To keep a lamp burning we have to put oil in it."
Mother Teresa
"History teaches us that men and nations behave wisely when they have exhausted all other alternatives."
Abba Eban
"Prohibition only drives drunkenness behind doors and into dark places and does not cure or even diminish it."
Mark Twain

Drugs, Crime and Prohibition

Courtesy 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 is true.

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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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:

The National Drugs Strategy - Spin and Reality

The 1998 strategy has four 4 key targets for 2008:

Aim 1:   Halve the number of young people using illegal drugs, especially heroin and cocaine.
Reality:   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).
Aim 2:   Halve the levels of re-offending by drug misusing offenders to protect communities from drug-related and anti-social behaviour.
Reality:   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.
Aim 3:   Double the number of drug misusers in treatment.
Reality:   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
Aim 4:   Halve the availability of drugs, especially heroin and cocaine on UK streets by 2008.
Reality:   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 (Contact 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 Transform.

  1. 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?

  2. 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?

  3. 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?

  4. 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?

  5. 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?

  6. Why are tobacco and alcohol excluded from the national drug strategy?

  7. Does enforcing the drug laws contribute to social exclusion?

  8. 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?

  9. Why are injecting heroin addicts given clean legal injecting equipment but then forced to buy dirty illegal street heroin?

  10. 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?

For more information visit Transform