As part of the UK government’s continuing war on drugs, there have been several measures proposed and introduced that have been designed as deterrents against the use of recreational drugs. But is this fair? Would this be an effective way to discourage people from taking drugs and falling into the addiction cycle, or would a less punitive approach focused on care be more effective?
Passports and Driving Licences to be Confiscated in new Measures
In July 2022, the UK government announced that it had put forward proposals for new fines to be introduced as well as other forms of punishment such as the confiscation of people’s passports and driving licences. These penalties would be used to attempt to prevent people from engaging in the purchasing, distribution, and use of illegal drugs.
What Other Measures Have Been Proposed?
For people who have committed a first-time offence, they might have to pay for and take part in a drug awareness course. If they refuse to do so or cannot do so, they may be liable to pay a fine, and in some cases might be subject to prosecution. If people commit an offence related to the use of drugs for a second time, they may be issued a caution, after which they could be sent on another mandatory drug awareness course that they would have to pay for. In addition, they would also be required to participate in random drug tests for up to three months.
Finally, if people commit a third offence, they might be arrested. Moreover, this conviction would likely be given as a civil court order, and people might also find themselves banned from certain places, such as nightclubs, as well as being tagged to monitor their drug usage.
Why Are These Penalties Being Introduced?
The government argued that these new penalties were to be introduced in response to the increasing drug usage in the UK, the devastation that illegal substance usage can cause in communities, and the harm that drugs can cause to people. They also argued that these measures would help to protect people from being exploited or being at harm as a result of taking drugs.
What Are The Pros?
By introducing harsher penalties, this could force people to reconsider taking drugs or engaging in the distribution or sale of drugs. Not being able to drive as a result of having a licence confiscated could prevent opportunities for work, for recreation, and for keeping up with life commitments. The same would be true if people had their passports taken away, as this would prevent them from being able to go on holidays abroad, and it could also potentially prevent work opportunities that might be available through frequent travel.
Furthermore, the increased fines could also cause people to reconsider their decision to use or sell illegal substances. What’s more, incurring high fines during a period of economic uncertainty, where there are continual increases in inflation, and the prospect of a cost of living crisis could deter people from this behaviour, since the fines would make life significantly harder.
While these are all examples of negative consequences, they could be considered as less harsh punitive measures in comparison to prison time. By giving people several chances via the three-part system mentioned earlier, this also could give people time to reconsider their decisions.
Moreover, in instances where people have become addicted and the decision to refrain from taking drugs is not so simple, this system could potentially offer people some leeway, as they would at least have some time and access to resources intended to help them. Elsewhere, these proposed measures could potentially help to reduce the number of people using drugs, and this, in turn, could reduce the number of people becoming addicted to drugs, as well as people dying as a result of a drug overdose.
What Are the Cons?
Perhaps the biggest downside of these proposed penalties is the fact that the approach itself is much harsher, and does not give much thought to helping people with addiction, rather than punishing them for it. Other countries around the world, such as Portugal, use approaches that seek to provide people with access to advice, support, counselling, and medical care if they are found to be using illegal substances. The idea from Portugal is that an approach that offers support, rather than punishment, is more effective. In the case of Portugal, the statistics indicate that there is truth to this idea.
This approach has not been attempted in the UK, though it has been proposed and discussed several times. Both the current government and the shadow government are against the idea of reducing the severity of sanctions on drug use, or attempting to change the approach.
But since the current approach has not worked so far, it begs the question: by continuing to introduce harsher and tougher penalties, does this not serve to create a culture of fear, rather than a culture of care and support? What if people become addicted to prescription medication, and then find themselves using illegal substances in order to cope with withdrawal symptoms or side effects? While they should attempt to seek medical attention, this might not always be as straightforward as it seems.
So What’s the Right Approach?
People can become addicted to drugs for a variety of reasons, and by introducing sanctions that take away people’s rights, such as being able to drive and travel, this does not address problems such as addiction, and rather, creates more problems for the individual dealing with the addiction.
The current approach up to this point has been to be tougher on drug offences, yet the number of deaths related to drugs and people being arrested on drug offences has continued to increase. This implies that introducing even tougher measures, might actually have an adverse effect. Perhaps it’s time to introduce an approach that seeks to help people rather than punish them.