Boris Johnson has promised to take on middle-class “lifestyle” drug users, warning they could lose their passports or driving licences as ministers look for new ways to punish them.
The prime minister, who will launch a new 10-year drugs strategy on Monday for England and Wales, said recreational narcotics use was not a “victimless crime” and that it created a supply chain of misery and violence.
The strategy will focus on disrupting 2,000 “county lines” supply routes — where children are used by gangs as drug couriers — but will also have a new emphasis on treatment and programmes to break addictions.
Johnson told the Sun on Sunday the government would tackle drug users who helped to “create the economics of the business” and would look at new ways of punishing them.
“I don’t want to stereotype them but I’m talking about lifestyle drugs,” he said. “These people think it’s a victimless crime. It isn’t. The country is littered with victims of what’s happened.
“We are going to look at new ways of penalising them. Things that will actually interfere with their lives so we will look at taking away passports and driving licences.”
Dominic Raab, deputy prime minister and justice secretary, told the BBC: “We will be very clear on sentencing and penalties. We don’t think middle-class use of cocaine is somehow OK.”
In 2019 Michael Gove, then a contender for the Conservative party leadership, said he was “fortunate” to avoid prison after using cocaine several times 20 years ago while working as a journalist. He said his drug use was a “profound mistake”.
Launching the new strategy, Johnson will say there are more than 300,000 heroin and crack addicts in England who, between them, were responsible for nearly half of acquisitive crime, while drugs accounted for nearly half of all murders. He will say this costs society £20bn a year.
A total of £300m will be spent on tackling drugs gangs, particularly those in “county lines” operations that distribute narcotics from cities to towns and rural areas.
The strategy will also involve the government committing to the largest ever single increase in investment in treatment and recovery. Raab said a drugs rehabilitation programme, trialled in Liverpool, will be rolled out across the country.
Priti Patel, home secretary, will announce on Monday an expanded programme of drug testing by police when suspects are arrested, with people being directed towards treatment.
A “behavioural change” campaign, to discourage drug use among younger people, will be focused on university campuses.
Clients of drugs dealers — whose phones have been seized — will be sent messages to direct them to get support. “No one should feel anonymous when they buy illicit drugs,” said a government official.
Chris Farrimond, director of threat leadership at the National Crime Agency, said: “So far this year, over 120 tonnes of cocaine have been seized as a result of NCA activity. We have more than 300 ongoing investigations, both at home and abroad, specifically focusing on class A drugs.”