Pubdate: Mon, 02 Sep 2002
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Nick Hopkins, crime correspondent
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


An academic will warn chief police officers that retaining the power of 
arrest for simple cannabis possession is a sideways step that could lead to 
confusion among officers when the drug is reclassified.

Tiggey May, who co-wrote a study on the policing of cannabis funded by the 
Joseph Rowntree Foundation, is expected to tell a drugs conference on 
Thursday that she fears that the home secretary's decision to keep the 
power of arrest when certain aggravating factors apply was a mistake. 
Though supporters of the move have argued that the retention will stop 
cannabis users from mocking officers by smoking in front of them, Ms May 
believes this is "hardly a persuasive argument".

"People who smoke in front of police officers are likely to be very naive, 
and the best thing to do when confronted by that kind of behaviour is to 
rise above it, or ignore it.

"I don't think people want to be stopped and searched, so they are not 
likely to draw attention to themselves".

Ms May, a senior research fellow at South Bank University in London, is one 
of the speakers at a two day drugs conference starting on Wednesday. It has 
been organised by the association of chief police officers.

Earlier this year Ms May co-wrote a study with Mike Hough on policing and 
cannabis. She will draw on her research, which involved eight police forces 
- - including the Metropolitan police - to show that 69% of police officers 
have dealt with cannabis possession in an informal way, often by throwing 
it down a drain.

Analysis of 30,000 custody records also found that only 1% of those charged 
with cannabis possession were later charged with more serious offences.

Figures show that 75% of those arrested for cannabis were accused of simple 
possession, rather than anything more serious. Only 10% were charged for 
possession and other drug offences.

Ms May said yesterday that there was danger in cannabis users "having laws 
forced upon them that they don't believe in" at a time when "crack houses 
are opening up in a number of cities, and heroin prices are continuing to 
fall". She added: "Most officers we spoke to did not think that 
criminalising young people was a good use of their time".

In July David Blunkett announced his intention to reclassify cannabis to 
class C, a category which does not have an automatic power of arrest for 
simple possession.

Rather than stripping police of this option, Mr Blunkett said legislation 
would be passed to give officers a reserve power of arrest if the offence 
involved children, public disorder, or a "flagrant disregard for the law".

The Association of Chief Police Officers is, however, struggling to draw up 
the guidelines for officers regarding the aggravating factors. They are due 
to be published in November.

Ms May warned yesterday that the guidelines, if unclear, could lead to 
disparity of practice within and across regions.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager