With You’s response to ‘Swift, Certain, Tough: New Consequences for Drug Possession’

Photo by Kai Joseph on Unsplash

With You outlines its response to the Government white paper, ‘Swift, Certain, Tough: New Consequences for Drug Possession’.

The UK government published a new ‘Swift, Certain, Tough: New Consequences for Drug Possession’ white paper outlining new ‘consequences’ for the possession of recreational drugs. The white paper proposes to reduce demand by targeting recreational drug users, creating a new three tier framework for possession offences.

Tier 1 — would see people would be required to pay a fixed penalty notice and attend a drug awareness course. Failure to pay/attend would lead to criminalisation.

Tier 2 — would see people instead of being charged, being offered a caution which would include, where proportionate, a period of mandatory drug testing alongside attendance at a further stage drugs awareness course.

Tier 3 — a person would be charged and a court could impose one or more of the following interventions: an exclusion order, drug tagging, passport confiscation, driving licence disqualification. The white paper also proposes increasing the range of Class A drugs that can be tested for on arrest, extending this power to Class B drugs, and expanding the types of offences that would allow police to test on arrest.

In With You’s response to the consultation, we welcomed aspects of the diversionary proposals in the white paper and its attempt to create a more uniform approach to how police deal with drug offences. It should not be a ‘postcode lottery’. How police deal with drug offences should not be determined by where in the country they are. The desire to address this problem should be commended.

However, we expressed concern with many parts of white paper. We highlighted that the proposal requiring people to pay for a drug awareness course, or pay an enhanced fine for non-attendance, will disproportionately impact people on lower incomes. Many people will not have the means to pay for these courses or fines, and we believe this would create a profoundly unjust system where some people who can afford to pay will be able to avoid further penalties. Whether someone is diverted from the criminal justice system should not be dependent on whether they have the means to pay or not.

We argued that mandatory drug testing can be stigmatising, disproportionate, expensive and ineffective. It can lead to significant net-widening, meaning more people end up being brought into contact with the criminal justice system. We know this can have a significant impact on people’s lives, negatively affecting their employment or family responsibilities, as well as their right to privacy. Mandatory drug testing can also have unintended consequences, resulting in people using more dangerous synthetic drugs which may not show up in a drug test, or drugs which are detectable in the body for a very short amount of time.

We also expressed our concerns with the interventions at tier 3, where individuals can receive a drug court order, including an exclusion order, a drug tag, have their passport confiscated and/or have their driving licence disqualified. We believe these interventions lack an evidence base in reducing demand, are disproportionate for drug possession offences and could have significant long-term impact on a person’s employment and family responsibilities. We also argue the proposal to introduce bans on attending football matches and nightclubs lack evidence and will also do little to reduce recreational drug use.

Though they may be well intentioned, as a package of proposals, the white paper feels muddled and confused. They attempt to increase the punishments imposed on drug users while also attempting to divert drug users from the criminal justice system. The Government has recently asked the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, an advisory non-departmental public body, to review the proposals in the white paper. This is a welcome next step and we hope this will lead to the proposals being revised to ensure they are evidence-based, proportionate, and are focused on diverting people away from the criminal justice system.

Read the blog post here.

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