The government has reignited the controversy around punishments for ‘middle class cocaine users’ with the announcement that a forthcoming white paper will set out tough new sanctions for drugs offences.
Writing in The Telegraph, crime and policing minister Kit Malthouse said that these would make sure ‘drug users face clear, certain, swift and escalating consequences’. There would be new punishments ‘for so-called “recreational” users who continue to flout the law’, which would become ‘increasingly painful’, he wrote.
Although the launch of last year’s drug strategy was accompanied by media coverage of ‘cracking down on middle class drug use’, many in the sector separated the politically-driven need to placate parts of the press with the content of the document itself (DDN, February, page 8). Malthouse’s announcement, however, once again raises the prospect of people having their passports or driving licences removed, policies which many believe to be unworkable. The Telegraph article was also accompanied by an announcement that football fans caught with cocaine or other class A drugs at matches will now face five-year banning orders.
‘We clearly have to act,’ Malthouse wrote. ‘I don’t want to lose any more to this evil menace. Getting to grips with our nation’s drug problem is a key priority for me, the prime minister and the government as a whole, and in December we published a ten-year plan to do just that. But we cannot hope to bring about the complete shift we are looking for without taking action to address so-called “middle class”, or “recreational”, drug use. We cannot seriously reduce demand if we do not send a message loud and clear that people who choose to take drugs on a “casual” or “non-addicted” basis will face tough and meaningful consequences for their part in the misery, violence and degradation that drugs bring.’
The government intended to reduce levels of drug use over the next ten years to a ‘historic 30-year low’, he added. Malthouse, who heads the government’s Joint Combating Drugs Unit, also told the Independent that he strongly opposed London mayor Sadiq Khan’s recent announcement of a London Drugs Commission to look at cannabis legislation. California’s legalisation of recreational use of the drug was ‘widely acknowledged to be a disaster’, he said.
The Ministry of Justice has also announced a new Turnaround scheme for children and teenagers ‘teetering on the edge of crime’, with a £300m investment over three years for early intervention by local authorities when young people were ‘displaying signs’ such as a history of substance use or poor school attendance. Wraparound support from local youth offending teams could include support with mental health or substance use, as well as mentoring or extra tuition, the government states.