The government has been accused of “squandering” £1.6 billion in taxpayer money on failing anti-drug policies after its own report showed illegal drugs remain widely available on Britain’s streets.
The audit, which has gone largely unnoticed, was published last month.
As the government released details of its new drug strategy, it also put out its evaluation of how the 2010-2016 plan went – hidden at the bottom of the page.
The report was not mentioned by any minister in a Home Office press release, or in the parliamentary debate the following week, or in any media coverage until the Times picked it up on Tuesday.
The report says the strategy to reduce illicit and harmful drug use, launched by Theresa May when she was home secretary, has largely failed.
Despite extensive resources being used to tackle drug use, consumption had remained stable since 2010, it said.
While the report notes some enforcement activities can contribute to the disruption of markets, it found they are resilient and can “quickly adapt to even significant drug and asset seizures.”
It found actions by the police and government often had little impact as drugs are “still widely available to those who want them.”
“The UK illegal drugs market is extremely attractive to organised criminals as the prices charged at street level are some of the highest in Europe, and sufficient to repay the costs of smuggling drugs into the UK,” the report said.
It suggested that the most beneficial ways of reducing harm might be to continue tackling the most violent dealers, adding that enforcement efforts “may be” effective in suppressing emerging markets.
Transform Drug Policy Foundation says the report is a “damning indictment of the UK’s enforcement-led approach to drugs; not only its failure and futility, but its counter-productivity.” It adds that if the government was “trying to keep this document under the radar, they did a good job.”
In a blog on the foundation’s website, head of campaigns Martin Powell says the key focus of the new enforcement strategy is to “reduce crime and restrict availability.”
“Here is a formal review saying the past strategy did nothing of the sort, has no prospect of doing so – and in crucial respects, actually made things worse.
“It describes how we are squandering £1.6 billion [US$2.1 billion] a year enforcing the drug laws, including making seizures of drugs and assets, with little effect on street prices or availability.
“All while fuelling drug market violence, and harming the young and vulnerable for criminalising them. And for what?”
He says that the Home Office clearly does not want proper research and evaluation because “they know what it will reveal.”
“The path to a better drug policy is clear, but if a damning evaluation and record drug deaths isn’t enough to prompt even a meaningful review of the options, then what is? We can see the cost of failure in the human tragedy all around us: The government must be called to account.”