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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume 3 - Public Policy Options

Chapter 20 - Public Policy In Other Countries - UK


The Office for National Statistics estimates that the illegal drugs market alone accounts for nearly 1% of national output, equivalent to 8.5 billion a year.[1][98]

Despite the criticisms made in certain reports, the UK has an impressive database on drug use trends. Every two years since 1983, the Home Office has conducted the national British Crime Survey, which includes a series of questions on illegal drug use. The Home Office also keeps detailed data on arrests, convictions and sentences. The DrugScope organization is the British correspondent for the OEDT.



In the 16-59 age group, 32% in England and Wales say they have "ever used a drug" (1996 = 29% and 1994 = 28%). This rises to 50% for the 16-24 age group. Recent drug use was less common, however. For example, in the 1994, 1996 and 1998 surveys, 10%-11% reported drug use in the last year and 6% reported drug use in the last month. Drug use does change with age: 30% of 16- to 24 year olds reported drug use in the last year and 20% in the last 30 days (this compares to 3% and 1.5% for 45‑to 54 year olds). In addition, there is a higher prevalence of drug use in males than in females. With respect to children, surveys in England show that 13% of respondents aged 11 to 15 reported ever taking a drug. For children, prevalence increases with age. For example, 3% of 11- to 12-year-olds, 13% of 13- to 14-year-olds, and 31% of 15 year-olds reported ever using drugs.

Cannabis is the most widely cultivated, trafficked and used illicit drug in the UK. The young use it most commonly, with usage declining with age. Almost half of 16- to 24 year olds in England and Wales report ever using cannabis, with 17% using it in the last month. Only 5% of adults aged 55 to 59 report ever using this drug.



As stated, people arrested in the UK may be dealt with in different ways including cautioning by police or prosecution (except in Scotland where other procedures are available). Under the Customs and Excise Act 1979, compounding (the payment of a monetary sum in lieu of prosecution) is available in cases of importation of small quantities of cannabis (10 grams or less). In addition, the authorities may use their discretion and take no further action. This last option would not appear in criminal statistics.

The total number of people dealt with for drug offences went from 35,000 in 1988 to 153,000 in 1998. Of these, 127,840 were found guilty, cautioned, fined or settled with by compounding. In 1997, the number was 113,150. The most common drug was cannabis at 76%. Almost 90% of MDA offences are possession offences and, generally, three-quarters of all possession offences involve cannabis. The number of people who receive cautions has increased dramatically over the years and of the people found guilty, cautioned, fined or settled with by compounding, cautioning now accounts for almost 50%. Thus, many of the cases are dealt with outside the courts.

In 1998, the number of drug seizures was 149,900, an 8% increase over 1997. Cannabis was involved in 76% of the cases. Between 1995 and 1999, the average price of most drugs remained relatively stable.



[1][98] "The Untouchables", Economist, April 21, 2001, Vol. 359, No. 8218, page 49.

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