Policing the problem: current trends in UK drug policy
One of the intentions of this work has been to alert the reader to the complex nature of the illicit drug scene. At one and the same time illicit drug use in the UK is seen as morally wrong, and thus subject to legal sanctions, as well as being pharmaceutically dangerous, making it in need of control by the medical profession. Yet, despite this formidable level of ofﬁcial sanction and concern, a signiﬁcant minority of the British population claims some form of illicit drug use. Equally, the UK, whilst having its own ‘drug problem’, is subject to the pressure and inﬂuence of a huge global illicit drug industry that grows, manufactures and distributes a product for which there is a seemingly inexorable demand. In some producing countries, the illicit drug industry has a major impact on economic well being, making it difﬁcult to impose meaningful sanctions. In an effort to control this global ‘problem’ the UK, alongside a host of other nations, has become a signatory to international anti-drug treaties, which in turn inﬂuences and runs parallel to domestic policies. It is the development of these domestic policies that informs this penulti-
mate chapter. As we shall see, the last two decades have seen a rise in activity in the drug policy area, which has become increasingly frenetic in the very recent past. When I wrote the ﬁrst version of this book, I noted that ‘it is without doubt that, at the time of writing (January 2002), the UK seems to be entering a watershed period in drug policy’, and I quoted the DPAS publication: ‘Let’s Get Real’ (DPAS 2001) as evidence of that. However, hindsight being a wonderful thing, I am now not so sure that much has changed. Essentially, what this chapter aims to do is to chart the development of British policy from the ‘just say no’ approach of the early 1980s through to the criminal justice dominated approach of the early twenty-ﬁrst century. The chapter begins with a brief excursion into some of the literature that
describes the policy-making processes, the impact of policy communities, and the problems of joint working. It then looks at the claims for a ‘British system’ and identiﬁes two distinct policy communities. This is a necessary diversion, as it alerts the reader to the difﬁculties and tensions in policy
formation, as well as providing a theoretical framework through which to view policy. From there, the chapter identiﬁes policy options and trawls through the various policy documents, noting how the government’s approach changes over time. In so doing, it searches for factors that inﬂuence change. It concludes with some thoughts on the possible future direction of policy.