Traditional drug war law enforcement tactics have not worked in Britain, according to research released Wednesday by the UK Drug Policy Commission. The commission is a non-governmental body that lists among its objectives providing "independent and objective analysis of UK drug policy."
In the study, Tackling drug markets and distribution networks in the UK: a review of the recent literature, the researchers reported that British drug markets are "extremely resilient" and that increasing seizures of drugs had had little impact at the street level. Despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year on drug enforcement, "there is remarkably little evidence of its effectiveness in disrupting markets and reducing availability," the authors concluded.
"We were struck by just how little evidence there is to show that the hundreds of millions of pounds spent on UK enforcement each year has made a sustainable impact and represents value for money, and no published material to allow comparisons of different enforcement approaches," said Tim McSweeney, one of the authors of the review.
"All enforcement agencies aim to reduce drug harms and most have formed local partnerships to do this, but they still tend to be judged by measures of traditional supply-side activity such as seizure rates," said the commission's David Blakey. "This is a pity as it is very difficult to show that increasing drug seizures actually leads to less drug-related harm. Of course, drug dealers must be brought to justice, but we should recognize and encourage the wider role that the police and other law enforcement officials can play in reducing the impact of drug markets on our communities."
Still, the authors of the report suggested that law enforcement does have a role to play, particularly in focusing on drug markets with the most "collateral damage," such as gang violence, human trafficking, and drug-related criminality. Police need to work closely with local communities, the authors said, as well as recognizing the unintended and unanticipated consequences of enforcement measures, such as a "crackdown" that merely moves dealers to nearby neighborhoods.