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Section 8 - Trouble with the Law

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Drugs and the Law

The term 'busted' was used in the questionnaire, as it commonly is in British drug cultures, to mean convicted or cautioned for any offence (though some respondents might have also meant arrested without being charged, or raided). 24% of respondents answering the question had been busted for cannabis offences, 8% for other drugs, and 14% for other offences. This study did not ask specifically what other drugs, or other offences. A total of 283 people had been busted altogether (21.2% of respondents), some for more than one type of offence. This is very similar to the 22% of respondents 'busted' in the 1984 survey.

In most years, the majority of drugs cases involve possession of cannabis. In the survey 83% of drugs cases had been for possession, 88.5% involved cannabis, 49% were dealt with by cautioning, 5% were imprisoned (Tables 2.8-2.10). The Home Office Statistical Bulletin lists 87.5% of drugs cases in 1994 as for possession, 83% involving cannabis, 56% being cautioned and 7% jailed. This is broadly similar; the differences are probably because our respondents" trouble with the law was in earlier years. Although the use of cautions has been increasing, so apparently has the use of imprisonment. The Release Drugs & Dance survey found that 28% of drug users had had non-specified "trouble with the Police", but found much higher arrest statistics among respondents who had attended unlicensed events, more liable to police activity. It is possible that persons attending free festivals may be more likely to be searched by police; in 1984, 8% of respondents reported that they had been searched on the way to the festival.

Those who had been busted for cannabis used significantly more illegal drugs (p< 0.0005), significantly more frequently than those who had not. Although there were no apparent differences in income, those busted were on average just under three years older, and by regression of current income against age might have been expected to be £20/week better off. They also spent far more money on drugs - 2.5 times as much on cannabis and 7 times as much on other illegal drugs (significance p< 0.005 and p< 0.01).

Users who had been convicted or cautioned for a cannabis offence gave slightly higher ratings out of ten for cannabis, as well as ecstasy & other psychedelics, cocaine, crack, heroin and tranquillisers. Those who had been arrested or convicted for other drugs gave consistently higher ratings to all drugs except solvents, however none of these differences were statistically significant. There is certainly no evidence to suggest that a drug conviction would lead to more negative attitudes to drugs.

These figures could indicate either successful police targeting of heavier users (not necessarily dealers), or that being busted for any offence may contribute to encouraging more chaotic drug use. Convictions do not appear to deter, nor to induce negative attitudes to drugs. A conviction may even stimulate drug use.

Respondents with criminal convictions other than for drug or motoring offences reported earlier first use of all drugs except crack and 'other psychedelic'. This difference was

significant in the cases of tobacco, LSD, amphetamine and cocaine. They reported more frequent use of most drugs, highly significant in the cases of tobacco, amphetamine, cocaine, crack, heroin, barbiturates, tranquillisers and solvents. They also reported spending more than the average respondent on drugs; 17 times as much on cocaine, 27 times as much on heroin, 4 times as much on amphetamines, 3 times as much on cannabis, and 2.5 times as much on ecstasy (all statistically significant). Offenders gave significantly higher ratings to crack, heroin and solvents (drugs rejected by the vast majority of respondents), but gave marginally lower ratings to the psychedelic drugs (LSD, mushrooms, 'other') and amphetamine. Offenders were more likely to start smoking tobacco earlier, and to smoke more cigarettes per day. While offenders were less frequent users of alcohol than non-offenders, they spent slightly more on alcohol and drank significantly more units per week, suggestive of a tendency to drink to excess on a few occasions, rather than to drink steadily every night of the week. Offenders used significantly more cannabis, bought more and spent more on cannabis, and smoked more joints and pipes per day than non-offenders. Total drug spending (all drugs including legal drugs) was over 3 times as high among offenders, (mean £103.85 per week, compared to £30.08 per week in non-offenders), suggesting that offenders may be those who are less able to control their appetites for drugs than the otherwise law-abiding user.


Cannabis and Driving

The figures appear to show drug-using drivers involved in roughly the same number of accidents as the UK average, even though the respondents were younger than the average driver, and might therefore be assumed to be involved in more than the average number of accidents (Table 8.7). Fourteen drivers (1.5% of drivers) were involved in 77 accidents (17.1% of total). This group spent significantly more on all illicit drugs than other respondents, but (surprisingly) were not significantly heavier users of alcohol, and did not differ significantly in monthly cannabis use or purchase.

Factors which might have resulted in artificially low figures may be (i) not all drivers had been driving for 5 years, (ii) users on lower incomes may cover less distance per year than the average, or (iii) there may have been under reporting of accidents. Factors which might have artificially raised the estimate may be (i) exclusion from total mileage of drivers who did not respond to the question on accidents, many of whom may have considered it irrelevant. If this mileage is included the rate falls to 0.652 per 100,000 km; (ii) reporting of accidents which occurred over 5 years previously, (iii) the respondents are younger than the average driver, and would normally be expected to have more accidents than the national average.

No significant relationships were found between the frequency of use of other drugs and reported accident rates, except for occasional Ecstasy users who showed an accident rate 35% higher than other drug users. Due to the small subsample this only just achieved statistical significance. There were weak correlation's between accidents and aggregate spending on most drugs, suggesting that heavier users may be more at risk, although none of these correlation"s were statistically significant (Table 8.8).

The surprisingly low proportion of road accident casualties testing positive for cannabis (9.2%) would appear to be lower than the proportion of young adults (16%) who admitted using cannabis over the previous month in the 1996 British Crime Survey . The figures certainly give no support to claims that moderate use of cannabis, or of other illicit drugs, are major causes of road-traffic accidents. However, very heavy and/or chaotic poly-drug users who drive would appear to present a greater risk to themselves and other road users. Current police concerns about the dangers posed by 'drugged drivers' would appear to be misplaced.



1. Virtually all respondents had used cannabis; the majority were daily users. Although the majority of users consume a moderate amount (1g per day or less, around 6 typical joints), there is a significant minority of heavy users consuming 1 to 2 ounces per week (4g to 9g per day, 10 to 20 or more joints). Even the heaviest UK users, including growers of cannabis (who use significantly more than average), use substantially less than in Caribbean producer countries. The distribution of cannabis consumption among UK users appears to have altered little since 1984, although prevalence indicators suggest that the number of drug users in the general population has increased substantially in that time.

2. Most regular cannabis users will have tried a range of drugs, notably LSD, mushrooms, amphetamine and ecstasy. For most, such use is experimental or occasional. Hardly any respondents were regular users of cocaine, heroin or crack, and the proportion of daily heroin users within the sample (<1%) is similar to that found in 1984 (0.5%). Of those who have not yet done so, fewer would try heroin than in 1984. While these results provide some support for a progression from regular cannabis use to experimental or occasional use of hallucinogens and/or stimulants, there is no evidence of any progression from any level of cannabis use to regular use of any other drug. Ecstasy use among persons attending festivals would appear to be substantially lower than among 'clubbers'.

3. A clear majority of users reported positive or highly positive attitudes to cannabis, Mushrooms, LSD and Ecstasy (in that order), and an overwhelming majority gave negative or highly negative ratings to solvents, crack, barbiturates, heroin, and tranquillisers. Subjective ratings of individual drugs were lowest among non-users, and highest among regular or daily users of each drug. LSD was responsible for the greatest number of worst, and of best drug experiences. A majority of those reporting health problems arising from cannabis also reported health benefits. The most common mental health benefit reported was relaxation and/or stress relief.

4. Users who had been convicted or cautioned for cannabis offences were significantly more likely to use, and/or to spend, substantially more money, on a range of drugs. These results may indicate that the effect of an arrest could be more likely to stimulate than to deter subsequent drug use. The year of first use of cannabis mirrors the police conviction statistics for those years, suggesting both to be determined to a large extent by availability, and that naive users are not substantially deterred by convictions among their peers.

5. The overall level of road traffic accidents reported by respondents who drove appeared to be no greater than that found in the general population. However, the small minority of respondents reporting multiple accidents were significantly heavier users of and/or spenders on a range of drugs. The proportion of road accident victims testing positive for cannabis, indicating use within the past month (under 10%) may not exceed the level of use among the general population, particularly among the young adults (i.e. inexperienced drivers) who are statistically more likely to become involved in road accidents. These results provide no support for the view that moderate drug use, particularly of cannabis, makes a significant contribution to road traffic accident statistics.

6. Women tended to be lighter users of most drugs, and to have first used most drugs later in life, than men. Users under 20 had first used cannabis at a mean age three years younger than users over 30. The heaviest users of drugs tended to be respondents in their twenties. This is consistent with the finding in 1984 that users experiment with a range of drugs early in a drug-using career, and settle down to a more stable pattern involving regular cannabis use and, for some, occasional use of other drugs.

7. Students reported lower drug use than unemployed or working respondents, a finding common to both the authors" previous surveys of this nature. A high proportion of drug abuse surveys concentrate on school and/or university students; these results suggest such studies may substantially underestimate the prevalence, and levels of, drug use among young adults, and any generalisations from such studies would be of questionable validity.

8 Prices of cannabis are remarkably stable throughout the UK, both in geographical distribution and between inner-city and rural areas. The level of recognition of different types of cannabis appears to be lower than in previous generations, many could not easily distinguish between cannabis or resin of different types or origins. Eighth ounce deals (nominal 3.5g) of most types of cannabis resin tend to cost £15 or less, herbal cannabis £15 or more. "Skunk" and similar have more variable prices, from under commercial prices to up to twice the price of resin, most commonly £20 to £25 per eighth, but also supplied at lower prices on an informal basis. "Home grown" (outdoor/leaf) prices are much lower, around half the average resin price, but where supplied such material would most commonly be given away free. Prices are both lower and more variable in larger quantities.

9. Extrapolation of these results to prevalence in the population may not be reliable due to the nature of the user population under study, although both previous surveys by the authors have found similar patterns of use and rates of arrest. However, using arrest statistics and reported "busts" among respondents in this survey as indicators, regular cannabis users could comprise some 2.75 million UK citizens in 1994, consuming 817 metric tons of cannabis products per year worth approximately £3.5 billion at street level. These estimates would probably be conservative.

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