HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Police Reject Tougher Action on Cannabis
Pubdate: Thu, 1 May 2008
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2008 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Pubdate: Thursday May 1 2008
Author: Alan Travis, home affairs editor, The Guardian
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


Brown Plan to Upgrade Drug Will Not Change 'Confiscate and Warn' Stance

Police will not adopt a tougher approach to cases of simple 
possession of cannabis when ministers upgrade the legal status of the 
drug to class B, the Guardian can disclose. The Association of Chief 
Police Officers (Acpo) confirmed last night that the current policy 
of "confiscate and warn" would continue, despite Gordon Brown's 
determination to reclassify the drug in an attempt to "send a tough 
message" to young people about its use.

Chief constables are debating whether or not fixed penalty fines 
should be available alongside cannabis warnings. But the basic 
approach of saving police time by not making an arrest and taking the 
offender to the police station to be charged, introduced four years 
ago, will remain.

Before cannabis was downgraded to class C in 2004, 58% of possession 
cases formally dealt with by police ended in arrest and formal 
caution, while 42% were taken to court.

Campaigners for drug law reform last night questioned the relevance 
of the drug classification system, which dates back to 1971, and its 
ability to send a message.

Roger Howard, chief executive of the UK Drug Policy Commission, and a 
former government drugs adviser, said: "There will be no new powers 
or resources for policing if cannabis is made class B, and cannabis 
warnings can still be issued instead of arrest."

He said this underlined the muddle at the heart of government over 
the purpose of a drug classification system which was unlikely ever 
to be able to "send a message to young people". Since cannabis had 
moved from class B to class C, the number of schoolchildren who think 
it is fine to try cannabis had halved, he said.

It is expected that Acpo guidance to police officers will use 
different language from existing guidelines to stress the discretion 
that is available to constables to take more robust action in cases 
involving repeat offenders or aggravating factors such as disorder or 
evidence of organised crime.

An Acpo spokesman last night: "The key will be the discretion for 
officers to strike the right balance. We do not want to criminalise 
young people who are experimenting." However, he stressed that cases 
involving "aggravating factors" were more likely to see an arrest and 

When the police announced their support for regrading cannabis as a 
class B drug this year, Simon Byrne, Merseyside's assistant chief 
constable and the Acpo lead on policing cannabis, entered a 
little-noticed but crucial caveat to the police position. He said 
that since cannabis had been downgraded there had been growing 
concerns over increased potency, the rise of "homegrown" cannabis 
farms and a perception that its legal status meant it was seen as a 
low policing priority.

But he added that the police had supported the decision to downgrade 
the drug four years ago because of "the disproportionate time spent 
by frontline police officers in dealing with offenders in possession 
of small amounts of cannabis for personal use. Should the decision be 
taken to reclassify cannabis to a class B, Acpo believes the service 
should retain this flexibility in dealing with instances of 
possession on the street, including the discretion to issue warnings 
in appropriate circumstances".

The 2005 Serious and Organised Crime and Policing Act introduced new 
criteria for making an arrest which emphasised that it had to be 
necessary because, for example, the officer doubted whether he had 
been given a real name or a valid address by the offender. The number 
of cannabis warnings issued has spiralled to more than 100,000 since 
its legal status was downgraded; that forms an important part of the 
ability of the police to meet their national target for the number of 
offences brought to justice.

In legal terms, the move back to class B means the maximum prison 
sentence for possession will be increased from two to five years. 
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