Pubdate: Wed, 22 Jul 2015
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2015 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: James Cusick


Senior police chief says prosecution is a waste of time and reveals 
his force is already turning a blind eye to domestic cultivation in 
defiance of the Home Office

If you smoke a joint in front of an officer, you'll still get nicked

The blanket criminal prosecution of all cannabis growers should be 
stopped, according to one of the country's most senior police 
officials, who revealed that his force is already bypassing Home 
Office guidelines.

In what may be seen as a major shift towards effective 
decriminalisation within law enforcement, Ron Hogg, the police and 
crime commissioner for Durham Constabulary, said his force's scarce 
resources were no longer being used against growers involved in 
small-scale cultivation of the class B drug.

Mr Hogg, the former deputy chief constable of Cleveland, said that 
instead the fight against the "multimillionpound business of 
organised crime, drug dealers, and street gangs" was being 
prioritised - leaving the way clear for minor producers quietly to 
grow marijuana without fear of being pursued by the law.

Despite the cultivation of cannabis still being classified by the 
Crown Prosecution Service as a criminal offence that carries a 
maximum penalty of 14 years for the most serious producers, Mr Hogg 
told The Independent that Durham Constabulary was no longer going 
after "users and small-scale growers".

While he believes it unlikely that cannabis will become a "legalised" 
drug, he confirmed that officers would only intervene if growers were 
being "blatant" about their activities. "Our objective is to reduce 
harm. And as cannabis does cause harm, we are still intent on 
stopping people using this drug," said Mr Hogg. "But we would rather 
see resources used to help addicts recover, and reduce the number of 
victims of crime by reducing reoffending."

The commissioner's statement follows recent comments by Durham's 
Chief Constable, Mike Barton, who said that investigating and 
prosecuting drug addicts was a "waste of police time".

Mr Hogg, who had a 30year career in the police serving four forces, 
was elected as Durham's police commissioner in 2012. He is planning 
to champion the benefits of Durham's policing regime to forces in 
England and Wales. He intends to deliver seminars to the Derbyshire, 
Dorset, Norfolk and other forces.

Although the Home Secretary, Theresa May, promoted the idea of 
elected police and crime commissioners, there will be concern that a 
campaign to liberalise drug laws is now coming from within their ranks.

But Mike Penning, the minister for policing, said last night: 
"Growing cannabis, whether for personal use or organised supply, is 
illegal and those who do so can face significant jail sentences. The 
Government has no plans to legalise cannabis as there is clear 
evidence that it can damage people's mental and physical health."

It was following interviews with media in Teesside that Mr Hogg first 
confirmed police officers in the north-east of England had 
effectively ended active operations to seek out small-scale 
producers, and will instead offer specialist programmes as an 
alternative to court action.

However, his comments appeared to have cause immediate concern inside 
Durham Police  with the force's press officer contacting local 
newspapers yesterday to deny Mr Hogg had effectively given the green 
light for legal smallscale cannabis cultivation.

For growers responsible for nine plants or fewer, sentencing 
currently ranges from a fine to a maximum one-year in prison.

Although there are no official statistics for the scale of 
small-scale production of the drug, recent figures based on results 
from the Crime Survey for England and Wales show therewas a 45 
percent increase in the amount of herbal cannabis seized between 2012 
and 2014. However, there was an 11 per cent decrease over the same 
period in the number of cannabis plants seized, to just over 450,000. 
Ninety per cent of the raids involved fewer than 50 plants being seized.

Mr Hogg has met pro-cannabis activists in his region three times over 
the last year. John Holiday [not his real name], the founder of 
Teesside Cannabis Club, said the last meeting with the police 
commissioner took place earlier this month.

He told "Mr Hogg said that Durham [Police] would no longer be seeking 
out personal growers unless complaints were made to the police. He 
explained this wasn't a free-for-all, that if you smoked a joint in 
front of a Durham officer you'd still get nicked."

Mr Holiday said Mr Hogg promised a working relationship between the 
police and the local cannabis-growing community. However, that level 
of co-operation would not extend to what Mr Holiday called "big 
criminal and the large commercial gangland growers".

Last night Mr Hogg said his views were "not a shift in police policy" 
as he claimed that other forces in the UK were already operating 
under similar rules.

He said: "This is the position of most police forces."
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