- Police will ask cannabis users to go for treatment rather than prosecuting them
- The softening of approach was announced by the National Police Chiefs’ Council
- Chief constables can decide to arrest and charge, caution or warn those caught.
Police forces across the country were yesterday given the green light to stop arresting cannabis users.
Individual chief constables can now decide whether to arrest and charge, caution or warn those caught with the drug – or simply let them go.
The softening of approach was announced by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the body that develops nationwide operational policies.
The organisation’s spokesman on drugs, Cleveland assistant chief constable Jason Harwin, said that asking cannabis users to go for treatment rather than prosecuting them could prevent re-offending and provide the ‘best outcome’.
The news follows last week’s disclosure by the chief constable of the West Midlands force, Dave Thompson, that his officers do not even give official warnings to young cannabis users because it would be ‘disastrous for their life chances’.
Mr Harwin, who is NPCC ‘lead for drugs’, said: ‘There is strong evidence to suggest that recommending minor offenders for early intervention treatment instead of pursuing convictions can prevent re-offending and result in the best outcome for both the user and the criminal justice system.
‘It is a matter for chief constables, in liaison with their police and crime commissioners, to determine operational priorities.’
Suggesting to users that they opt for drug treatment means there is no arrest or even a minor criminal sanction, but there is no pressure on the user to take up the treatment.
Possession of a Class B drug such as cannabis can lead to a five-year prison sentence and an unlimited fine. Growing or dealing cannabis can theoretically bring 14 years’ jail and an unlimited fine.
Mr Harwin, whose organisation includes the 43 police forces in England and Wales, said that chief constables would continue to pursue large-scale drug gangsters.
However, he added: ‘There are a range of options for dealing with those found in possession of cannabis or who cultivate the plant that are proportionate to individual circumstances – these include out-of-court disposals and cannabis warnings, as well as prosecution.’
His remarks provoked fresh criticism from anti-drug campaigners. Drugs analyst Kathy Gyngell, co-editor of the Conservative Woman website, said: ‘This is astonishing in view of the cumulative relationship between cannabis and violence. This is symptomatic of the politically influenced easier-to-say-yes-than-no culture of present day policing.’
David Raynes of the National Drug Prevention Alliance said: ‘Deliberately undermining the law on cannabis is no part of the NPCC’s function.’
In response to the NPCC statement, the Home Office said that police chiefs are expected to enforce the law. A spokesman said: ‘Possession of cannabis is a criminal offence.’
Station cells facing the axe
Police officers will end up becoming ‘taxi drivers’ if plans to close station cells go ahead, critics have warned.
Derbyshire Police have proposed shutting the 13 cells at Buxton’s Silverlands police station later this year as they are ‘under-used’.
The move would save almost £500,000. Under the plans, anyone arrested in the borough of High Peak would have to be taken to Chesterfield or even Ashton or Cheadle in Greater Manchester instead – in each case more than 20 miles away and taking a two-hour round trip.
It will leave just two custody suites, Chesterfield and Derby, in all of Derbyshire, which has a population of around a million people.
Resident Sandra Davies, 71, said: ‘There will be some officers who will be working a shift as a taxi driver not a police officer.’
A petition by Ruth George, MP for High Peak, calls for scrapping the plans.