Pubdate: Tue, 30 Oct 2007
Source: Argus, The (UK)
Copyright: 2007 Newsquest Media Group
Author: Miles Godfrey
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Government figures reveal that police have opened a new front
against drugs.

But one senior officer admits police are thinking the unthinkable -
moving those who smoke pot in their own homes way down the list of
priorities. Miles Godfrey reports..

Imagine a discretionary law which police sometimes enforce but at
other times don't bother.

Picture a crime in which you will get thrown in jail for up to two
years on occasions but get let off with a caution on others.

Welcome to modern Britain, a country characterised by an increasingly
confused attitude to cannabis.

Ever since the drug was downgraded from class B to class C in 2004, we
have been caught in a no-man's land of legislation which police
officers are feeling increasingly unsure, nervous even, about how to

Recent figures show that cannabis use has once again fallen
significantly, particularly among young people.

This is an extremely encouraging sign that the Government's decision
to downgrade has had positive benefits.

However, we are increasingly being caught in the entirely ludicrous
situation where our police officers are unsure whether to arrest
people for possession of the drug.

The alleged cannabis cafe in Lancing is a perfect example.

Dozens of officers took part in the most recent raid on the heavily
fortified premises in Freshbrook Road, using a tractor to tear the
wall down. But while money and resources are being used in this way to
target those suspected of dealing in cannabis, the officer who led the
operation has told The Argus his force is unlikely to punish
individual users of the drug.

Although no fault of the police, a mixed message is being sent - it's
perfectly OK to smoke cannabis behind closed doors but don't be caught
with it in too large quantities or you will be punished.

Chief Inspector Lawrence Hobbs, district commander for Adur, conceded
few resources were devoted to tackling those who smoke cannabis in
small quantities in their own homes.

Mr Hobbs said: "We are not turning a blind eye to it but we are not
specifically targeting it either.

"We are not going out of our way to tackle those who smoke cannabis
behind closed doors.

"Tackling cannabis is not high on the priorities of the police

"However, targeting the people that sell the drug is, and we will
continue to expend a lot of time and energy in tracking these people
down. Tackling class A drugs is also a very high priority and we will
continue to catch the people who both use and sell them."

Mr Hobbs would not be drawn on his personal opinion as to whether he
would like to see cannabis upgraded to class B.

But all the signs are that it soon will be. Almost immediately after
taking power, Gordon Brown announced a two-year study which should
reverse David Blunkett's 2004 decision.

This would, at the very least, give police more confidence to act

At the moment, cannabis laws state that punishment for having the drug
largely depends on what age you are.

Home Office advice says young people caught in possession of a small
quantity should be arrested and given police cautions, while adults
caught in possession of the same amount are "unlikely" to be arrested.

It states that the current maximum tarriff for being caught in
possession of cannabis is two years, a reduction from five years,
while the maximum tariff for dealing cannabis was increased from five
years to 14 years.

Sussex Chief Constable Martin Richards, who supports a return to class
B status, has admitted his officers face a tough task interpreting the

He said: "There is a feeling that reclassification is a good idea and
the right thing to do. My focus is on the top level of dealers
blighting the beauty of Sussex.

"I have officers on the streets who have to make decisions on a
day-to-day basis and they have to use discretion and judgment
depending on the circumstances."

Many believe police officers should not be forced to work like this
and Britain needs to take a firm line on cannabis once and for all.

Either fully legalise it or criminalise it, in other

The middle ground, they say, is doing nobody any favours.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake