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21st Jul 2022

The Home Office wants to effectively decriminalise drugs

A three-strikes system means drug possession wouldn't result in a criminal charge

Jack Peat

A three-strikes system means drug possession wouldn’t result in a criminal charge

New Home Office proposals would see recreational drug users sent on awareness courses, or fined, like a speeding ticket, instead of receiving a criminal charge.

Those found in possession of illegal substances would enter a three-tiered system of intervention, the first tier being a fixed penalty notice mandating attendance at a drug awareness course.

After a second offence the individual would receive a caution and, if proportionate, be required to take drug tests for a period of time.

Only on the third occasion would a criminal charge be brought against a user.

The penalties are being looked at to help “tackle the scourge of substance abuse in society”, with new punishments similar to those dished out for driving offences included in a new government white paper.

The document, titled ‘SWIFT, CERTAIN, TOUGH New consequences for drug possession’, is a peculiar combination of the Home Office’s typical fire and brimstone rhetoric with some progressive ideas for new laws in England and Wales.

It is only at the third tier of the system that Priti Patel‘s fingerprints start to show.

Those being punished for their third offence could face an exclusion order (banning a person from a particular place), drug tagging, passport confiscation or driving licence disqualification.

The initial stages, however, of the programme closely mirror the drug policies adopted by Portugal.

All illegal drugs, including heroin and crystal meth, were decriminalised in the Mediterranean country 20 years ago and since then drug deaths and drug dependency have dramatically decreased.

Watch our documentary on the Portuguese model:

Jay Jackson, head of public affairs at Volteface, said: “Despite the ‘tough consequences’ rhetoric, the plans announced are a welcome step in the right direction.

“For first time offenders caught in possession of drugs, a criminal conviction can often have devastating consequences.

Any approach that offers an educational intervention or deals with these issues in a civil rather than criminal context will lead to improved outcomes for individuals and society – as seen in Portugal.

“We’ve had 50 years of policy failure when it comes to tackling drug-related harms and the proposed changes are in line with a global shift in attitudes towards drugs and the harms caused by their use.

“It’s encouraging to see the government embrace an evidence-based approach that would save lives, money and police time.”

The home secretary said: “Illicit drugs are at the root of untold harm and misery across our society.

“The total cost to society and taxpayers is huge too, running close to £22 billion a year in England alone.

“Even these shocking numbers cannot fully capture the scale of the human tragedy, with countless lives ruined and families devastated.

“It is our mission to turn the tide.”

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