Drug users should be given "creative civil punishments" rather than jail sentences, according to the government’s own expert advisers.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has a strong track record of opposing government drugs policy, with former chair Profesor David Nutt being expelled under Labour for saying ecstasy use was no more dangerous than horse riding.
"For people found to be in possession of drugs for personal use, they should not be processed through the criminal justice system but instead be diverted into drug education /awareness courses with concomitant assessment for treatment needs,” the body’s annual report reads.
The advisory body stressed the need for magistrates to bear in mind rehabilitation and education courses for offenders when handing down sentences.
"One of the purposes of sentencing is the rehabilitation of offenders," it argues.
"There should be drugs awareness courses to which those found in possession can be referred as a diversion –this would be the equivalent of the apparently successful “speed awareness” courses to which drivers can be referred as a diversion."
The document outlines how costs could be cut and crime rates reduced through more "creative" civil sentencing.
"Such approaches may be more effective in reducing repeat offending and reducing costs to the criminal justice system," they said.
"The ACMD also believe that there is an opportunity to be more creative in dealing with those who have committed an offence by possession of drugs. All sentencers should be trained not only in the use of ...drug awareness, drug law and drug rehabilitation."
However, the expert body drew a clear distinction between small scale drug offences, such as possession for personal use, and crime related to drug such as theft and burglary, which they insist should still be treated as criminal offences regardless of the circumstances.