Statistics can be a limited and limiting way to understand social issues. When we focus on how many people are affected by a problem, or how much the government spends on tackling it, we start to see numbers instead of people. The opposite is also true, though: without statistical evidence, it’s hard to understand the scale of a problem.
Westminster has finally reached a tipping point in the drug debate and radical change is now becoming possible, Norman Baker has said. The Liberal Democrat Home Office minister was speaking to Politics.co.uk after the publication of a government report on international drug laws which found no correlation between the severity of a country's policy and levels of drug use. It is unprecedented for the Home Office to publish a report which casts doubt on its own policy for the last 40 years and many reformers are becoming increasingly confident that it could herald a sea-change in Westminster's view on the issue.
The underlying aim of The Sentencing Council's new guideline for drug offences in England and Wales is to ensure sentences are consistent and the punishment proportionate. The guideline was launched in February 2012 and early results suggest it is beginning to have its desired effect. But achieving that consistency has involved a long process of research and careful testing of the results with judges, lawyers and the general public. (See also: Drugs, crime and punishment)
Forty years after the introduction of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, more than 2.8 million people report using illicit drugs every year in England and Wales. While cannabis remains overwhelmingly the most popular, this Home Office total also includes 800,000 mainly young adults who put the country at the top of the European league table for powder cocaine use.