The drugs market in Britain is worth £5.3bn, says the UK Drug Policy
Commission report, published today, and it is proving “extremely
resilient” to crackdowns by law enforcement agencies.
Hundreds of millions of pounds are spent every year on tackling the flow
of drugs into the country, and there have been significant seizures and
convictions of high-profile traffickers and dealers, but there has been
little impact on supply and demand, says the commission.
Its report says the market is too big to be affected by police and
customs action, and is able to adapt quickly to disruptions.
The number of class A drug seizures in England and Wales more than
doubled between 1996 and 2005, according to the report.
However, an estimated 60% to 80% of drugs would need to be seized
regularly to put major traffickers out of business, even though seizure
rates on this scale have never been achieved in the UK or elsewhere.
Tim McSweeney, one of the report authors, said: “Within the research
literature, there is a consistent call for a better understanding of how
drug markets operate and the role that enforcement can have in reducing the damage caused by them.
“We were struck by just how little evidence there is to show that the
hundreds of millions of pounds spent on UK enforcement each year has
made a sustainable impact and represents value for money.”
The report calls for more to be done to reduce the effect of drugs on
communities, with measures such as tackling drugs-related “collateral
damage” including gang violence and prostitution.
The authors argue this would have a greater impact on the drugs trade
than big hauls.
David Blakey, of the UK Drug Policy Commission, added: “All enforcement
agencies aim to reduce drug harms and most have formed local
partnerships to do this, but they still tend to be judged by measures of
traditional supply-side activity such as seizure rates.
“This is a pity as it is very difficult to show that increasing drug
seizures actually leads to less drug-related harm. Of course, drug
dealers must be brought to justice, but we should recognise and
encourage the wider role that the police and other law enforcement
officials can play in reducing the impact of drug markets on our
The report said the government channelled £380m in 2005-06 in England
towards reducing supply. It added the broader criminal justice costs
arising from class A drug use were estimated to be more than £4bn.
Willie MacColl, the national drugs coordinator with the Scottish Crime
and Drug Enforcement Agency, said today there was no such thing as a
“meaningless conviction” but said a balanced approach was needed in
tackling drugs misuse.
“It is widely recognised within policing that there is a need to reduce
the harm associated with drugs as well as the demand for those drugs,”
“The police have a key role to play within the partnerships that already
exist in our communities to reduce harm. A lot of police effort is also
dedicated to supporting this work.”
• Teenage girls are as likely to try cannabis as young men, new research
For many years, there was a gender divide over use of the drug, with
boys being much more likely to try it than girls.
But researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia say
girls’ use of cannabis has caught up with that of boys in the 14-19 age
group. This mirrors trends in teen smoking and drinking.]