The House of Commons will today debate whether to rethink the war on drugs. While it is only a backbench business debate, and is therefore not binding, it still represents a step towards reviewing the UK’s drug laws. There is a simple reason why the UK’s drug policy is so expensive and ineffective: the law is so old. Policy is still dictated by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, signed into law shortly after the 1971 UN Convention on Drugs. In 43 years since, the approach has failed catastrophically.
Across the UK, 7,865 cannabis farms were discovered in 2011-12, an increase of 15% on the previous year's figures and over double the number for 2007-8 when police found just 3,032. Previously cannabis cultivation was done on a larger scale by gangs, who would fully convert terrace houses, knocking down walls to make larger growing areas, taking electricity direct from the mains, to avoid triggering the suspicion of the energy companies over unusually high consumption. Recently, there has been a shift towards smaller-scale farms, in line with a national trend, identified by the Association of Chief Police Officers' 2012 report into the commercial cultivation of cannabis .
Ruth Runciman, Chair of the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC)
15 October 2012
Despite the successes of recent years, there are still approximately 2,000 drug-related deaths in the UKevery year. Nearly 400,000 people have serious drug problems and the annual cost to society is estimated to be about £15bn. There is little or no evidence to support much of current expenditure on law enforcement and education in schools. We spend billions a year without knowing if it does any good. In boom years this was objectionable; now it is unsustainable.
Police discovered more than 20 cannabis farms and factories in the UK every day last year, seizing drugs worth up to £100 million, according to a report by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Criminals attempt to reduce risk and minimise potential losses by employing a large number of so-called "gardeners" to manage smaller farms across residential neighbourhoods. A total of 7,865 farms were found across the UK in 2011/2012, an increase of 15 percent from the 6,866 found in 2009/2010 and up more than 150 percent from the 3,032 found four years ago, the ACPO study found.