Campaigners say government going backwards by targeting ‘lifestyle’ users of class A drugs with tough criminal sanctions
Middle-class drug users are to be targeted as part of a 10-year strategy to be announced by Boris Johnson’s government with a heavy focus on war-on-drugs-era punishment.
So-called “lifestyle” users of class A drugs face losing their passports or driving licences under proposals designed to target wealthy professionals who the government will argue are driving exploitative practices with their demand.
Police officers will be handed powers to go through drug dealers’ phones and contact their clients with warnings about drug use in a bid to spook them into changing their behaviour.
The government’s 10-year drugs strategy will be published on Monday with a heavy focus on targeting users and suppliers, including gangs behind the so-called county lines phenomenon, which often sees young, vulnerable people turned into cross-country mules.
But drug reform campaigners have criticised the UK government for going “backwards” by embracing a criminal sanction-led approach while other countries and federal states are adopting more progressive approaches, such as legalisation of cannabis in Canada.
Some of the measures to be presented in the drugs strategy include:
- Contacting clients based on drug dealers’ seized phones with a range of messages to discourage their drug use and direct them to getting support.
- A commitment to dismantling more than 2,000 county lines and making thousands more arrests.
- Investing up to £145m in the county lines programme, targeting the road and rail networks and protecting those exploited and supporting them to rebuild their lives.
- Expanding drug testing on arrest – supporting police forces to test more individuals.
- Developing out-of-court disposal projects to ensure those who misuse drugs face tougher consequences.
- The largest ever single increase in investment in treatment and recovery, which is understood to be made available to 50 local authorities.
The announcement comes as drug poisoning deaths are at a record high, having increased by almost 80% since 2012.
Niamh Eastwood, executive director of thinktank Release, said: “While increased funding for drug treatment is welcomed, the focus on more punitive sentences for people who supply drugs is a continuation of a tired tough-on-drugs narrative, one that we have had in the UK for decades.
“This failed policy will do little to address the high rates of drug-related deaths, which over the last decade have increased year on year, with some of the highest rates in Europe.
“While New York announces the opening of drug consumption rooms, Germany moves to legalise cannabis, as many US states and Canada have already done, and over 30 countries have ended criminal sanctions for possession of drugs – Britain is going backwards, embracing a Nixon-style ‘war on drugs’ approach.”
Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said: “Too often the government makes grand promises, but then fails to deliver or does the opposite. Drug use is up, serious violence is up, antisocial behaviour is up. More and more offenders are getting away with their crimes as overall prosecutions have plummeted. Any action from the government must be substantial enough to undo the damage they have caused.”
The government said it will publish a white paper in due course which will look at new measures to reduce demand and deter people from illegal drug use through “more meaningful consequences”.
“We need to look at new ways of penalising them. Things that will actually interfere with their lives,” the prime minister told the Sun on Sunday. “So we will look at taking away their passports and driving licences.”
He added: “What I want to see is a world in which we have penalties for lifestyle drug users that will seriously interfere with their enjoyment of their own lifestyles.”
The civil penalties will be modelled on sanctions already used against parents who fail to pay child maintenance and banning orders for football hooligans, the Sun said.
The government announced in July it would establish a new unit to help end illegal drug-related illness and deaths, as the second part of Dame Carol Black’s independent review of drugs was released.
The first phase of the review, which was published in February, estimated there were 300,000 opiate or crack cocaine users in England, and about 1 million people had used cocaine in the past year.
Black’s review estimated that the illicit drug market in the UK was worth £9.4bn a year, but cost society more than double that figure in terms of health, crime and societal impacts.