It has been recorded that drug seizure incidents by the PSNI have increased each year since 2006/2007, but there has been a decrease of 9.6% between January 1st to December 31st in 2020. It has been reported that lower levels of seizures across each class of drug, with Cannabis (Class B) being the most commonly seized drug. Seizures of cannabis resin had fallen by 79% as well as other formats of the use of cannabis falling, but the seizure of cannabis plants had a slight increase. It has been suggested by the PSNI in a bulletin published on January 29th 2021 that the Covid-19 Lockdown may have had an impact on the number of drug seizures.
The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 divided the drug classes into three categories based on the level of harm cause by each. Class A drugs are considered to be the most harmful. In the year 2020, following cannabis, Benzodiazepines (Class C) were the second most commonly seized drug and the third was cocaine (Class A). An annual bulletin published in October 2020 entitled Trends in Police Recorded Drug Seizures and Arrests in Northern Ireland 2006/07 to 2019/20 has stated that cannabis is the most commonly seized drug with herbal cannabis being the most commonly seized format. The number of cannabis related seizures had reached their highest in 2019/2020 and had approached doubling its number in 2012/2013. With regards to the cultivation of the cannabis, the National Police Chief’s Council has stated the commercial cultivation of cannabis is defined as being twenty-five or more cannabis plants at any stage of growth and if there is evidence of a cannabis farm. A cannabis farm in itself is a part of a premises which has been adapted to be used to solely for the production and growth of the cannabis drug with the use of equipment such as ventilation and high intensity lighting.
The report had further stated that cocaine was the most commonly seized Class A drug and had been the highest increase in Class A drug seizures. With that being said, other Class A drugs have increased among the seizures; most notably Morphine which saw its highest levels in 2019/20. In 2018/19, there had been 315 seizures of Ecstasy, 259 seizures of Heroin and 20 seizures of LSD. The number of seizures of Methadone had generally fallen since 2012/13 with 5 seizures in 2018/19 which was the lowest number recorded, however in 2019/20 there were 11 seizures.
Despite the decrease in drug seizure incidents in 2020, drug related arrests continued. The level recorded in 2019/20 had shown 3,829 arrests which is nearly twice as what it was in 2006/07 which saw 1,709 arrests.
The statistics regarding the impact of each policing district has shown a decrease in drug seizure incidents overall, but an increase in Mid & East Antrim by 63, Causeway Coast and Glens by 4 and Newry, Mourne and Down by 67. Within Belfast, there was an overall decrease of –456 and an a more detailed analysis highlights that the lowest decrease occurred in West Belfast with –14 and the highest decrease in South Belfast with –321.
The report states that between 1st January 2020 to 31st December 2020, there were 3,388 drug-related arrests which was a 10.6% decrease from the previous year. The PSNI has stated that, “The fall in the number of drug-related arrests in March and April may be related to the Covid-19 lockdown measures that were introduced on 23rd March 2020. Between the overall trend in the number of drug-related arrests recorded since the lockdown measures were introduced is broadly similar to that seen for drug seizure incidents and is similar to the number of drug offences recorded by police over the same time period.”
The report also states that there were 175 drug-related arrests in April 2020, which is the first time of which the monthly figure has been below 200 since June 2016. The largest falls in 2020 occurred within the start of the lockdown period, namely in the months of March, April and August when compared to the same months from the previous year. On the other hand, the highest drug-related arrests were higher in the months of January (70), February (72), July (4), October (3) and December (38) when compared to the previous year as well. It would further lead to the presumption that the level of drug seizure incidents as well as drug-related arrests was impacted over the course of the Covid-19 lockdown period.