Police chiefs across the United Kingdom have been given the green light to stop arresting cannabis consumers. Individual chief constables are now able to decide whether to arrest, caution, or simply let go those who are caught with cannabis.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) announced the new approach, hoping that by encouraging those caught with cannabis to seek treatment, re-offending rates will be lower. Users will not be pressures to seek treatment, but it is hoped that those caught will take up the offer.
The news follows the announcement by Chief Constable of the West Midlands police force, David Thompson, that his officers do not even give warnings to young cannabis consumers as it could be “disastrous for their life chances.”
“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,” Jason Harwin, Cleveland assistant chief constable and NPCC’s spokesman on drugs, said.
Cannabis is classified as a Class B drug in the U.K., meaning that being caught in possession of cannabis can lead to a prison sentence of up to five years and an unlimited fine. Soliciting or growing cannabis can result in an unlimited fine as well as up to 14 years in prison. Large-scale cannabis dealers will still be pursued the same by chief constables despite the new approach to cannabis. Last year, the U.K. legalized medical cannabis for prescription after high profile cases involving epileptic children using cannabis oil were denied their medicine.
In response, the Home Office said police chiefs are still expected to enforce the law, and cannabis possession should continue as a criminal offense. The new approach has also received criticism from anti-drug campaign groups. David Raynes of the National Drug Prevention Alliance said, “deliberately undermining the law on cannabis is no part of the NPCC’s function.”