Why does Scotland have the world’s highest drug related crime?

‘Scotland has the world’s highest related drug crime’, this story has done the rounds of the world’s media for a while with a recent re-occurrence that spread from Scotland to Malaysia and beyond within a couple of days. 

I was curious about how such a ridiculous story came into being given that 7,000 Mexicans were killed in 2009 in drug related violence. The first version I came across in the recent outbreak was something from STV. I wrote to their PR people and challenged them that the figures weren’t plausible and given the huge debate in the UK over crime statistics why didn’t they show a little scepticism over the figures, especially given the number of deaths reported in Mexico. They explained it wasn’t their story, they had got it from a news agency they referred to as Central Scotland News, who had taken it from this article in the Sunday Herald. STV PR people weren’t aware of the source of the statistics.

The journalist who wrote the article at the Sunday Herald was very helpful, he had wanted a ‘drugs’ story as the BBC Scotland programme Avalanche: Scotland's Cocaine Epidemic had put drugs at the top of the news agenda in Scotland. He had looked through the 2009 World Drug Report and latched onto the statistics there. According to the United Office of Drugs and Crime, Scotland does have the world’s highest drug related crime.

How can this possibly be true? How many people have died in Mexico in the last few years? The UNODC defines drug related crime as the procession or being involved in the supply of drugs. This definition is fundamentally different from that of any other I could find, ‘drug related crime’ for everybody else apart from UNODC includes the violence related to the drug trade and the acquisitive crime of drug users. The US Government even goes as far as distinguishing between ‘drug defined offences’ – possession, smuggling etc and ‘drug related offences’ – theft, violence etc. 

In 1984 the UNODC still agreed with everybody else about drug related crime, when even traffic accidents as a result of driving under the influence of illicit drugs were deemed by them to be drug related crime. The change from the commonly accepted definition helps obscure the failure of current drug policies, as do the poorly researched articles that result from this disingenuous set of statistics. Quantifying drug related crime is despite being highly problematic, does allow us to measure the impact of current drug policies. 

I checked the Scottish Government’s websites and the figures given to UNODC for ‘drug related crime’ appear to be those for procession of small quantities of drugs. This doesn’t seem to even fulfil the UNODC criteria, I double checked with the US figures and again they were the figures for possession of small quantities drugs. So the figures published by the UNODC for drug related crime appear to neither match their own definition or the different ones employed by national governments.

Why the change? Why the idiosyncratic new definition? Why the use of figures related to possession?  The bureaucrats at UNODC are bright, educated, diligent people, is it some sloppy mistake?