Pubdate: Fri, 24 Nov 2006
Source: Times, The (UK)
Copyright: 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd
Authors: Richard Ford and Stewart Tendler
Cited: The Home Office report
Cited: The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction 
Cited: Magistrates' Association
Cited: DrugScope
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


327,000 Hard-Drug Addicts in Britain

Higher Use Due to Falling Street Prices

Magistrates are calling for tougher laws on cannabis to halt a crime 
wave among children who are stealing to buy drugs and graduating to 
more dangerous drugs.

The demand for the Government to move the drug back to Class B from 
Class C for young offenders came yesterday as two reports showed that 
Britain's drug problems continue unabated.

The toll of hard drug abuse in England and Wales is now put at more 
than UKP15 billion a year in economic and social costs, according to 
Home Office figures.

The number of addicts has risen to 327,000 and Britain's illicit drug 
market is now estimated to be generating UKP5.3 billion for 
traffickers and dealers. Heroin and crack, seen as the most dangerous 
of the illicit drugs, account for about half of the market's total value.

A second report published yesterday by the European Union's main drug 
monitoring agency provided further alarming evidence of Britain's 
inability to tackle its drug problems. It places Britain among the 
worst European nations for drug misuse at a time when prices are 
falling and addiction could rise further.

Despite record levels of drug seizures, officials admit they are 
failing to hit the markets where users buy their drugs.

Against this backdrop, the call for changes to the cannabis 
legislation came from 400 delegates at the annual conference of the 
Magistrates' Association in Coventry. Roger Davy, a West Yorkshire 
magistrate and a national spokesman on youth courts, said: "Children 
- - and that's what they are - as young as 12, 13 and 14 are coming 
before us for offences of theft and robbery, which they admit are to 
raise money to feed their cannabis habit."

He said that cannabis use did not automatically plunge children into 
a life of crime, but many children believed cannabis was now legal 
and that nothing would happen if they were caught with it.

Mr Davy said that the downgrading of cannabis to a Class C category 
had sent out the wrong message to vulnerable young people and he 
cited the case of a 15-year-old boy who had come before Bradford 
Crown Court accused of murdering one of his brothers in a frenzied 
knife attack after drinking up to seven cans of lager and smoking 
several joints.

Mr Davy said: "The message has been sent out that having cannabis is 
not a serious offence, so more people have started to use it - who 
knows how many. But I am convinced that for many of the vulnerable 
youngsters I see in court it is a gateway to harder substances."

The magistrates voted for change as the Home Office report provided a 
fresh estimate on the total costs of Class A drugs, detailing the 
price of drug use linked to crime, healthcare and deaths. The report 
put the cost at UKP15.4 billion in 2003-04, or UKP44,231 for each 
problem drug user. It is an increase of UKP3 billion on the 2000 
figure, but officials said the rise was due to changes in 
calculations of the costs linked to crime and victims.

Drug-related crime accounts for 90 per cent of the overall cost of 
Class A drug use. The overall illicit drug market in 2003-04 was 
UKP5.2 billion, a fall from the UKP6.6 billion estimated for 1998.

The UKP5.2 billion drug market in cannabis, amphetamines, Ecstasy, 
powder cocaine, crack and heroin is one third the value of the 
tobacco market and 41 per cent the size of the alcohol market. The 
size of the drug trade is comparable to British Airways' stock market 
value of UKP5.5 billion and the brick and cement giant Hanson's stock 
value of UKP5.3 billion.

The Home Office report said that the decline in the size of the 
illicit market was a result of the sharp fall in the cost of drugs on 
the streets.

According to last year's report of the European Monitoring Centre for 
Drugs and Drug Addiction, published in Brussels yesterday, prices of 
cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, Ecstasy and cannabis across Europe 
have been steadily falling for the past five years.

The report says that, although drug use may have stabilised in 
Britain and other countries, danger lies ahead, especially over 
cocaine use. The drug is now the second most popular after cannabis. 
It said: "In Europe, cocaine is at historically high levels and 
studies suggest it is a common pattern for increases in problems 
relating to a drug to lag some years behind increases."

The report shows that Britain is top of the league for cocaine use 
among 15 to 34-year-olds, with 10.5 per cent of the population of 
that age group trying the drug at least once. Britain also came top 
of the 15-24 age group, with nearly 6 per cent having used the drug 
in the past year.

In 2003, the latest figures available, Britain was also top for 
heroin seizures, second for cocaine and cannabis seizures after Spain 
and top again for Ecstasy seizures.

Vernon Coaker, the Minister responsible for drugs, said: "Record sums 
invested in tackling drugs have helped to cut acquisitive crime, 
which is largely drug-related, by 16 per cent in the last two years."

But David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, questioned government 
policy. "This is the cost of Labour's failure on drugs, and it is 
being met by the public. Labour must end its chaotic and confused 
approach and get an urgent grip on this problem," he said.

Martin Barnes, chief executive of the charity DrugScope, said: 
"Despite encouraging signs that drug use overall is stable and for 
some drugs is falling, there is clearly no room for complacency." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake