This week (14th May 2018) the National Crime Agency (NCA), the UK’s lead agency against drug trafficking, revealed that the UK’s drug market is only getting bigger and will cause increased harm to the UK. It also conceded that demand for all common drug types remains high, and use of crack cocaine is actually increasing.
This is a colossal failure by the NCA and especially by our government who are ultimately responsible. They are pouring petrol on a fire, but appear surprised that the flames have got bigger. It is prohibition that gifts criminals the drug market and enforcement that sustains it and catalyses the violence within it.
The rise of ‘County Lines’ is of particular concern, as it is driving serious violence across all 43 police forces. The NCA indicate close links between ‘County Lines’ and crack cocaine, so if demand for crack cocaine increases we can expect associated violence and child exploitation to also increase across the nation.
Europol, the EU agency tasked with combating drug production, trafficking and distribution also reported that the drugs market is the largest criminal market in the European Union and valued it conservatively at 24 billion euros annually. It also declared that it only manages to intercept and confiscate 1 percent of criminal proceeds. That means 99 percent of money made through selling drugs on the criminal market is allowed to be spent freely, fueling other types of violent and destructive crime.
This is not new information, and repeats findings from the government’s own evaluation of it’s 2010 drug policy:
“Illicit drug markets are resilient and can quickly adapt to even significant drug and asset seizures. Even though enforcement may cause wholesale prices to vary, street‑level prices are generally maintained through variations in purity.”
“The UK illegal drugs market is extremely attractive to organised criminals as the prices charged at street level are some of the highest in Europe and are sufficient to repay the costs of smuggling the drugs into the UK.”
The government’s own evaluation is truly remarkable as it points out the failure, futility and counter–productivity of an enforcement led approach by the government when it says:
“Activity solely to remove drugs from the market, for example, drug seizures, has little impact on availability”
And it also reveals there are “unintended consequences” of such an approach, which may also help explain the rise in county lines and the exploitation of children in our rural and coastal towns:
“However, there are potential unintended consequences of enforcement activity such as violence related to drug markets and the negative impact of involvement with the criminal justice system […] including unemployment and harm to families – parental imprisonment is a risk factor for child offending, mental health problems, drug abuse and unemployment amongst others.”
This closely echos analysis from many NGOs (including Transform), independent commissions (Police Foundation, RSA, UKDPC) and academics over the years. As well as Whitehall analysis from the ACMD - particularly with regard to reducing record death rates, No 10 strategy unit (2003), the Home Affairs Select Committee, The Science and Technology Select Committee, and the Public Accounts Select Committee.
Even the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime have admitted that prohibition has created a vast criminal market of “staggering proportions”.
While the NCA and Europol use these statistics to angle for increased budgets – we cannot arrest ourselves out of this crisis, as shown by the overwhelming body of evidence and analysis by independent bodies and even the government themselves.
Just as legal regulation stripped the alcohol market from gangsters in the 1920’s, we must do the same with illicit drugs. Canada are legalising cannabis for that exact reason: to squeeze out criminals and protect its people. Pouring petrol on a fire only leads to more destruction – you need to use water. Only by legalising and regulating the drug market will we take power and wealth away from organised criminals and start putting out the fire. Organised crime won’t disappear overnight, but a legalised and regulated drug market will slash their vast income stream and therefore their power to corrupt and terrorise.
Author: Ben Campbell, Communications Officer - Transform Drug Policy Foundation