In the UK current drug laws are tough and vary greatly, with punishments ranging from something as simple as having drugs taken away to receiving a life sentence in prison. The severity of charges for drug offences across England and Wales varies depending on things such as the class of the drug/s involved, personal history of use, supply or any other crimes. The largest factor taken into account however is usually the class of the drugs, with separate sentences set out for each individual one. A good example of the severity of all the classes is to compare penalties for a Class A substance to those of a Class C. Possession of a Class A can result in up to seven years in prison and supply or production can lead to a life sentence. However possession of a Class C substance can result in up to two years in prison and supply or production can lead to a 14 year prison sentence. All are strong sentences for either offence even though the drugs involved hold different classifications.
But are these harsh penalties actually doing anything? The amount of people aged between 16 to 59 years old reporting to have taken an illicit drug in the last year was around 2.7 million and although this was a drop from surveys done in 2005/06 the number is still substantially high and has stayed around the same since surveys of 2014-15. Alongside this drop in drug usage however there seems to be a rise is registered drug misuse related deaths, so is the drop in use really telling us anything about how the penalty system is working? The most commonly used drugs of the last year were cannabis, powder cocaine and ecstasy, drugs that are easily and commonly obtained throughout the country.
Overall it seems deaths are rising as usage drops, but there are still large amounts of use and addictions throughout the UK. Are the penalties of drug possession really helping those who receive them, is punishment really the most effective method to lowering addiction and death rates? Many say no, claiming that prisons don’t do enough to help addicts come off substances whilst they are serving their sentence and that their existing drug programmes just aren't good enough. When stories emerge about drugs in prisons is serving time for drug use really worth it when they possibly have access to substances while inside and also when it makes it harder for them to be employed once they leave the facility? Many drug offenders re offend, possibly seeking drugs again once they leave prison for various reasons. So are their better ways of dealing with use and addiction?
An emerging popular opinion is that there are better options that help those found in possession of drugs to become clean whilst avoiding a prison sentence. Many benefits of this system have been discussed, such as the obvious benefit to an addict's health, giving them the help and treatment they need rather than punishing them for something they may be struggling to stop. Being in specialised facilities will also likely have a higher success rate as there is more concentration on relieving a person of their addiction and getting them back on their feet at a steady pace that specifically suits them. The decrease in prison sentences and arrests would also free up police time to tackle larger more serious crimes, as current practice of prison sentences seems ineffective at preventing use. However some do disagree, claiming that the success rates of rehabilitation centres are also too low, and money would be wasted on those who relapse and are admitted time and time again.