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Affluent drug users could treat diversion schemes “like speeding courses”

Home Affairs Committee told by chief constables that option of tougher sanctions should be retained

Middle class recreational drug users caught by the police could treat diversion schemes like speed awareness courses and not change their behaviour because they think it is nonsense, the Home Affairs Committee was warned today.

The government is to publish a White Paper later this year as part of its 10 year drugs strategy which will propose a series of escalating sanctions for recreational drug use designed to tackle affluent middle class drugs users who consider their habit does no harm.

Currently there are a number of educational schemes run with police forces designed to keep those caught in possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use out of the criminal justice system.

“This is a group of people who as the law stands are committing a crime,” said committee member Tim Loughton MP. “They may think it doesn’t do any harm therefore they think they don’t have a drugs problem. So they wouldn’t react positively to going on some rehab course."

Whereas the payment of a fine would not be a deterrent to affluent middle class drug users the government proposal is for an escalating series of measures  - such as the removal of their driving licence  - which could cause “a great deal more aggravation” to affluent users he added.

Mr Loughton drew a comparison with people who go on speed awareness courses rather than take points on their licence. “My experience is that quite a few of the people who go on those courses resent being there and think they are perfectly good drivers,” he said.

“Getting involved with drug taking is dangerous to other people when you consider the supply chain but they may not think it is dangerous. Taking away their everyday necessities may have more than an impact.”

Eighty per cent of drug offences recorded by police forces in the last 10 years were for minor possession offences the committee was told.

Merseyside chief constable Serena Kennedy said that for such users the criminal justice route “would be seen as the last resort.”

Merseyside’s deferred prosecution scheme is mostly used for people who have been caught in possession of drugs in a night time economy setting.

“If they engage with that 16 week programme they should emerge with a much greater understanding of the impact on them, their families and our communities,” she told the committee. The programme is designed to alter thinking about their drug use as a “one off weekend pleasure.”

In Merseyside 214 offenders have been referred to the scheme and 58 failed to start it. If they fail to complete the course they are put back into the criminal justice process CC Kennedy added.

ACC David Thorne from South Wales Police told the committee “this area of business absolutely needs tackling. There is a hidden market out there of employed, functioning, wealthy individuals [partaking regularly in Class A drug use.]

“Those people aren’t aware of the violence and exploitation that goes on behind the scenes in order for them to be able to take their line of cocaine or MDMA.”

He said there are schemes available similar to speed awareness courses but designed for recreational drug users. “Some people will not take heed of that,” he added. But he said the evidence is that imposing punitive action on people who take drugs is generally not successful.

“The reason for that is that it puts additional strains on them causing them to abuse drugs more,” he added.

Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police John Campbell said that “recreational drug use” was an unfortunate term as it could be said to minimise the stigma. He said that any diversion scheme should “include an element of carrot and stick.” He added: “We want to educate people but if we don’t there has to be some form of sanction.”

He said the same principles lay behind driver awareness courses. “Most of the evidence I get about driver awareness schemes is that it does change driver behaviours. For how long may be a moot point but the escalation of punitive measures exists across the whole of the criminal justice system.”

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