Today, I am pleased to announce the publication of a White Paper, “Swift, Certain, Tough: new consequences for drug possession” and accompanying public consultation, which has been laid before the House (CP 723). It has also been published on gov.uk.
As set out in the 10-year drug strategy, published in December 2021, we are committed to exploring options for tackling so-called recreational drug use. This White Paper does just that and proposes new sanctions to deter people from illicit drug use and change attitudes. Fundamental to this new regime is that drug users face greater consequences than they do today. And while we want consequences to be tough, we also want them to be fair, meaningful, and appropriate.
The White Paper sets out a combination of proposals for legislation, as well as broader areas for reform on which we invite consideration. We propose a new escalatory three tier framework for drug possession offences which will apply to all drug users, except where users have a drug dependence where treatment is the most relevant intervention.
Where appropriate, those caught for a first-time drug possession offence will be placed in tier 1 and issued with a fixed penalty notice. This requires them to either attend a drugs awareness course (paid for by the individual), or, if they do not attend the course, to pay a financial penalty.
For those who do not change their behaviour and are caught for a second time they will progress to tier 2. In this tier, the offender would be offered a caution which would include, where proportionate, a period of mandatory drug testing alongside attendance at a further stage drugs awareness course.
Should an individual be caught for a third time, they move to tier 3 and we expect them to be charged with the relevant offence. To ensure the courts have the right powers to change behaviours of drug offenders, we propose introducing a new civil court order to enable a range of conditions to be imposed, including: (i) exclusion order; (ii) drug tagging; (iii) passport confiscation; or (iv) driving licence disqualification.
Progression through the tiers should always be linear. We would not expect an individual to start with a tier 2 or tier 3 intervention or indeed “jump” from tier 1 to tier 3. The escalatory framework gives individuals the opportunity to understand the harms of illicit drugs better and to reflect on their behaviour and the harm they are doing to themselves and to wider society. Should they nevertheless continue to offend, consequences will escalate.
Drug testing on arrest
Given our focus is on reducing drug demand, we must take any opportunity to reach individuals and provide the right interventions. Therefore, this White Paper also proposes some important changes to drug testing on arrest powers to ensure the police can drug test more individuals than today. Drug testing on arrest is not about further criminalising drug users, but about identifying those who use drugs where their drug use may be a causal factor in their criminal behaviour and intervening to help them to change their behaviour. To achieve this we are therefore proposing to:
1. Expand the types of drugs that can be tested for to include a wider range of class A drugs;
2. Expand the types of drugs that can be tested for to include drugs in other classifications where relevant, and in particular cannabis as the most widely used illicit drug;
3. Expand the number of “trigger offences” that can lead to drug testing on arrest.
The proposed legislative changes will apply to both drug testing on arrest and to drug testing on charge.
Given many of the changes will require primary legislation, we believe the right approach is to publish a consultative White Paper. We will therefore open a formal consultation period on the document today for a period of 12 weeks. I would encourage parliamentary colleagues to review the document and the consultation, and to make relevant organisations in their areas aware. Consultation responses will be thoroughly analysed and taken into consideration before finalising any policy.
This White Paper represents a significant step in reducing overall drug use towards a historic 30-year low and shows we do not shy away from proposing new interventions to do this. Ultimately these sanctions are aiming to change behaviour and reduce demand for drugs. We want people to lead healthier lifestyles and we want them to stop putting money into the pockets of dangerous drug gangs who fuel violence in our communities.
We are utterly steadfast in our determination to grip this problem and, ultimately, turn the tide on illegal drugs.