12.5% of Police Forces in England and Wales have moved away from criminalising drug use, trialling new approaches to reducing drug harms

New research shows at least eight Police Forces in England and Wales are presently implementing or developing drug diversion programmes, moving away from criminalisation and instead taking a more public health orientated approach to drugs. The research by the Conservative Drug Police Reform Group (CDPRG) will be unveiled at the Conservative Party Conference at the CDPRG’s panel discussion event ‘Is Pragmatic Policing Driving Drug Policy Reform?’

The CDPRG’s briefing explores changing policing attitudes to drug offences in the UK and shows that 12.5% of England and Wales’ 40 Police Forces with Police and Crime Commissioners are using or developing programmes which divert drug users into treatment and education services rather than prosecuting them. Durham, Avon and Somerset and Thames Valley Police Forces are currently running drug diversion programmes, whilst similar schemes are being developed in the West Midlands, Dyfed Powys, North Wales, South Wales, and Cleveland. Whilst data on the outcomes of these programmes is still limited at this early stage, Jason Kew of Thames Valley Police reported an 80% success rate on diversion courses at an oral evidence session on drug policing at the APPG on Drug Policy Reform in May, 2019.

Chair of the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group and former Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt said: "This report helps confirm that operational policing reflects the changing public attitude to Cannabis use. This reflects the deeper changes already underway in all parts of both American continents and now taking hold in Europe.  These changes are an inevitable response to the substantial injustices created by the global legal framework, which is now long out of date. As this report helps show its high time legislators paid attention and put this right.”

CEO of the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group Rob Wilson said: "Whether due to resources or consideration of the evidence about what works, probably around half of our Police Forces have changed their approach to minor drug offences and 12.5% have put or are putting alternative strategies in place. The law is being interpreted in different ways by different Forces around the country, so whether you get charged, arrested or put on a diversion programme depends where you live. A much more evidence-based and nationally guided approach is needed." 

Additionally, Police Forces are commissioning drug diversion schemes, with DrugLink working with 16 Police Forces across England. DrugLink offers 3-hour diversion courses covering drugs, cannabis and alcohol, designed for first time or ‘low level’ offenders who have committed an offence involving alcohol or certain types of drugs. Attendance can result in the cancellation of the ticket and fine (although the individual must pay to attend the course, as part of an ‘offender-pays’ model). The course asks attendees to examine how their actions affect themselves and the wider community around them, encouraging personal responsibility. These sessions create the opportunity for an individual to make more informed decisions about future behaviours and can also act a gateway to other, more in-depth support services. Responses from those who have attended the courses in 2017 showed that 88% found that the course led to a reduction in alcohol, cannabis or drug use, 96% of attendees felt attending a session had increased their knowledge of effects of alcohol, cannabis or drug use on their health, and 97% felt that the attending a session had been a valuable experience.

The administrative and financial burden on Police Forces of processing drug offences is substantial, yet there is no convincing evidence to show that criminal sanctions of drug offences and drug users reliably curb use or supply of drugs. A 2014 Home Office report concluded that there was no “obvious relationship between the toughness of a country’s law enforcement against drug possession and levels of drug use in that country.”

Polling from the Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group in June 2019 showed that 76% of the public believed the threat of criminal punishment was an ineffective deterrent against unlawful drug use. The same polling showed that over half of the public (53%) said that drug use was best viewed as a health issue to be dealt with by healthcare professional focused on reducing harms, rather than maintaining the current emphasis on criminalising users.

Anthony Stansfeld, Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley, said: “I do not believe in decriminalising drugs, but there has to be a realistic way to prevent reoffending by addicts. I have recently supported a number of organisations, who are raising awareness of the impact of drugs on individuals and communities, across the Thames Valley. I hope the current programmes show worthwhile results. The early indicators are encouraging.”



Editors Notes

The CDPRG polling was conducted by YouGov in June 2019. Interviews were conducted online with a nationally representative sample of 1690 respondents in Great Britain. The data tables are here: https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/jebv23n429/CDPRG_190617_190619_Combined.pdf

The full briefing will be published on the CDPRG website on Tuesday 1st October 2019.

The CDPRG’s Panel Discussion at Conservative Party Conference ‘Is Pragmatic Policing Driving Drug Policy Reform?’
takes place on Tuesday 1st October, 20:00 - 21:30 at the Exchange 2 & 3 Combined, Manchester Central Convention Complex, Windmill St, Manchester M2 3GX (inside the Secure Zone). The panel is: Hugo Rifkind, Times Columnist (Chair), Mike Barton, former Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary, Crispin Blunt MP, former Prisons Minister, Chairman of the APPG for Drug Policy Reform and Chairman of the CDPRG, and Neil Woods, Author of ‘Drug Wars’ and ‘Good Cop Bad War’ and former undercover policeman.

The Conservative Drug Policy Reform Group (CDPRG) is a company limited by guarantee, operating as a not for profit entity. Parliamentarians associated with the Group and its supervision receive no remuneration for their roles within CDPRG. Below the Board, CDPRG has a Policy Advisory Council including MPs, peers, and GLA Assembly Members. The Policy Advisory Council draws on the eminent expertise of leading figures from the medical, health, ethics, economics and law enforcement sectors. Our website is www.cdprg.co.uk


For media enquiries: Hannah Slater, Senior Communications Manager

Mob: +44 7572 23995, Email: Hannah.slater@cdprg.co.uk