Londoners have used drugs for thousands of years, both for health and for pleasure. During the 20th century, the use and possession of drugs became increasingly controlled by the state as misuse of drugs became increasingly associated with ill health and crime.
Until the middle of the century, drug use was disapproved of but not considered a serious social problem. It was associated with bohemian behaviour and foreign cultures: opium and cocaine were particularly associated with the Chinese. Misuse of drugs emerged as a major health hazard in the 1970s when organised criminals began to take over the supply chains. Between 1980 and 1997 the number of specialist agencies dealing with drugs issues in London increased from 14 to 150.
By the end of the 20th century, London had 12% of the United Kingdom's population but 21% of Britain's drugs users, mostly in inner London. It was estimated that there were 40,000-80,000 problem drug users in London, and drug crime was costing London as much as 1.6 billion a year.
A London drugs timeline
* 1908 The Poisons and Pharmacy Act adds new controls the on sale of 'poisons'. The police are made responsible for enforcing some of the regulations.
* 1909 A London Country Council bylaw gives the council powers to suspend or revoke the licenses of lodging-house keepers who allow opium-smoking on their premises.
* 1916 The Defence of the Realm Act includes new licensing laws to restrict pub opening hours and add further controls on the unauthorised possession of opium and cocaine.
* 1916 In London's first drugs bust, Willy Johnson is arrested for possession of cocaine to sell on the corner of West Street and Litchfield Street in Westminster. He is acquitted.
* 1918 In London's first great drugs scandal, the actress Billie Carleton, a cocaine, opium and barbiturates user, dies of a drugs overdose at Savoy Court.
* 1920 The Dangerous Drugs Act introduces controls on the trafficking, manufacture, sale and possession of various drugs, including opium and cocaine. A subsequent act in 1925 extends controls to cannabis and coca leaves.
* 1950 Ronnie Scott's first Soho jazz club, Club Eleven, is closed after a drugs raid. Scott claimed his cocaine was for toothache.
* 1964 The Dangerous Drugs Act introduces new offences with regard to cannabis. Additional acts introduce controls on the possession and importation of amphetamines.
* 1967 The Dangerous Drugs Act enables police to stop and search persons for drug offences.
* 1971 The Misuse of Drugs Act introduces the offence of 'possession with intent to supply', extends the range of controlled drugs, and increases penalties. Subsequent amendments extend controls, including to Ecstasy in 1977.
* 1985 The Controlled Drugs (Penalties) Act increases the maximum prison terms for trafficking offences involving Class A Drugs.
* 1990 The Entertainments (Increased Penalties) Act, dubbed the 'Acid House Bill', increases the penalties for holding unlicensed public entertainment.
* 1997 The Public Entertainment Licences (Drug Misuse) Act enables the withdrawal of licences from venues where drug use or dealing is identified.
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