UK Government drug proposals will reinforce discrimination and criminalise poverty

Article by Fair Trials

Fair Trials has criticised the UK Government’s latest proposals to tackle recreational drug use, which will criminalise poverty and further fuel discriminatory policing.

The proposals were announced in the white paper, Swift, Certain, Tough: New consequences for drug possession, which sets out “a tough, escalatory framework aimed at adults caught in possession of low levels of so-called recreational drugs”.

Implementing the framework will require the police to expand their use of stop and search powers and test people for the possession of drugs. There is overwhelming evidence that stop and search disproportionately impacts racialised and marginalised communities, particularly young Black men. Increased policing of supposed recreational drug users will inevitably lead to even more discriminatory policing of Black and other racialised communities in England and Wales.

The paper outlines three tiers of sanctions for first, second and third offences. Tier 1 sanctions include forcing people to pay for a drugs awareness course. If they fail to do so, they will receive a fine. If they cannot pay the fine, they will be prosecuted. These plans are designed to disadvantage people who are experiencing poverty and are in greater need of support and services to manage harms associated with drug dependence. By making education and the avoidance of criminal prosecution both dependent on financial means, the Government is effectively criminalising poverty.

The paper states that illegal drugs “are harmful, affecting both physical and mental health, relationships, career prospects”, yet it proposes sanctions that are likely to not only cause but exacerbate similar harms to an individual. These sanctions include exclusion orders, drug tagging, passport removal and disqualification from driving.

Fair Trials’ Global CEO, Norman L. Reimer said:

“The use of the criminal law to regulate personal behaviour, such as recreational drug use, results in unnecessary criminalisation and disparity, and it has little impact on reducing the harms associated with substance dependence. These proposals are more likely to push individuals into poverty and inflict lasting damage. 

“Punitive approaches to drug consumption have failed time and time again. The UK needs to consider the harms caused by drug prohibition and learn from other countries choosing decriminalisation, regulation, support and education over stigmatisation and criminalisation.” 

Fair Trials will respond to the UK Government’s consultation and will comprehensively articulate the need for a non-punitive approach to drug use.