UK white paper: ‘Swift, Certain, Tough: New Consequences for Drug Possession’
We are proposing reforms to strengthen the response of policing and the criminal justice system to drug possession offences. A new three-tier framework will apply to all drug users, except where users have a drug dependence, (described by Dame Carol Black as a chronic health condition), and treatment is the most relevant intervention. Our ambition is to bring about large-scale behaviour change and our vision is for the framework to be operated at scale with swift, clear and certain consequences.
Consequences should be tough, but they should also be fair and meaningful. Where appropriate, all first-time drug possession offenders should receive a tier 1 intervention. A second drug possession offence will attract a tier 2 intervention, and a third offence will receive a tier 3 intervention. These are as follows:
• Tier 1: A person should be issued with a fixed penalty notice as an alternative to prosecution, which requires them to attend and pay for a drugs awareness course. If they do not attend the course, they will pay an increased financial penalty. Failure to pay will result in the fine being registered at court for enforcement or prosecution for the original offence.
• Tier 2: Instead of being charged, a person would be offered a caution which would include, where proportionate, a period of mandatory drug testing alongside attendance at a further stage drugs awareness course.
• Tier 3: A person would likely be charged for their offence. On conviction, a new civil court order could be applied for which would enable the court to impose the following conditions: (i) exclusion order; (ii) drug tagging; (iii) passport confiscation; and (iv) driving licence disqualification. 6. In addition, this white paper proposes some important changes to powers for drug testing on arrest to ensure the police can drug test a wider variety of individuals.
Scotland Drugs Policy Minister calls for urgent meeting to discuss concerns about UK drugs-policy proposals
In my letter to your predecessor on the 22 July 2022, I noted my concerns around what has been described as new consequences for drug possession in the Home Office publication; Swift, Certain, Tough. The paper sets out that some proposals, including the most punitive, may apply in Scotland. I received a reply on the 25 August 2022 claiming that these measures are a step towards changing the damaging culture of drug use.
Cranstoun response to the Swift, Certain, Tough. New Consequences to Drug Possession report
Our response to the Government’s white paper: Swift, Certain, Tough: New Consequences for Drug Possession
Reviewing the government’s new ‘tough’ consequences for drug possession
A key problem of the White Paper is that it confuses, or deliberately conflates, issues relating to people who use drugs recreationally with issues relating to people with drug dependencies or problematic use. The paper, including its prominent ‘Swift, Certain, Tough’ title, draws heavily on the US literature on ‘swift, certain and fair’ (SCF) sanctions. But while this scholarship on SCF has explored maintaining abstinence amongst drug-dependent offenders (enforced with drug testing—and sanctions, such as 48 hours of immediate custody, for positive results) the focus of the White Paper is specifically on ‘so-called recreational users’ who are not the focus of the SCF literature. Hawaii’s HOPE programme is referenced twice and appears to have been a big influence, but it is a programme for people with histories of dependence in probation-mandated treatment having left prison. None of that is relevant to recreational users—most of whom will not have criminal records, and none of whom, by definition, need treatment.
The White Paper has also pointedly replaced the ‘fair’ element of ‘swift, certain and fair’, with ‘tough’—a reframing symptomatic of the performative ‘tough on drugs’ populism that runs through the whole paper and its accompanying media messaging. Even for the drug awareness courses mandated in Tier 1 (not dissimilar to the diversion programme in place in Avon and Somerset for example), there is a proposal to not just make the offenders pay for the course but for them to pay more than the cost of the course – an overtly punitive element thrown in for good measure.