Cannabis users in County Durham who grow the drug for their own consumption will no longer be targeted by the police after the force declared the illegal activity was not a priority.
In a move, which will be seen as a further step towards decriminalisation, Durham Constabulary declared it would only go after people using the drug if there was a complaint or if they were being “blatant”.
While the force insisted it would continue to tackle commercial cannabis farms and other areas of criminality associated with the production of the drug, those who grow and use at home will not be actively targeted and pursued.
Details of the policy were outlined by Ron Hogg, a former police officer and now the £70,000 a year Police and Crime Commissioner, who said he hoped by setting out the position, it would spark a national debate around drug laws.
Mr Hogg said: “We are not prioritising people who have a small number of cannabis plants for their own use. In low level cases we say it is better to work with them and put them in a position where they can recover.
“In these cases the most likely way of dealing with them would be with a caution and by taking the plants away and disposing of them. It is unlikely that a case like that would be brought before a court.
“Of course it is up to the government to change the law but I trying to open up a debate about drugs and drugs policy.”
Both Mr Hogg and his Chief Constable, Mick Barton, are outspoken advocates of the decriminalisation of all narcotics, but the softening of the position around cannabis has alarmed some anti-drugs campaigners.
Outlining how the force would now tackle cannabis users, Mr Hogg said anyone caught with the Class B drug, would be given the opportunity to avoid prosecution by signing up to a crime reduction initiative.
He said the programme would allow addicts to receive the help they needed, while allowing people caught with small amounts of the drug to be treated in a “fair and measured” way.
However anti-drug campaigners said it was not up to an individual force to “lead the debate around the law” and insisted the policy sent the wrong message to users.
David Raynes of the National Drug Prevention Alliance, said: “Durham Constabulary are out on their own with this and are trying to lead the law on this issue.
“If the Chief Constable and Police Crime Commissioner want to indulge in that policy then it is not necessary to make it public, because clearly making this sort of announcement will serve to encourage anyone who so minded.
Setting out the force’s position on the controversial issue of drugs, Mr Hogg said: “By and large we are saying it is not the top of our list to go out and try to pick up people smoking joints on street corners but if it’s blatant or we get complaints, officers will act.”
He added: “Drugs cause immense harm to our communities. The question is how we tackle them. There hasn’t been a change in policy. We are taking an approach which reduces harm – by focusing on stopping people from using drugs, and tackling the organised gangs who are the source of the supply.
“Those who grow or deal in drugs, no matter on what scale, are responsible for causing massive harm to our communities, and will be tackled.”
And he said there would be no soft approach for those who grew the drug commercially, adding: “The police are working with partners including the fire service to identify and tackle cannabis farms.”
Last year Chief Constable Mick Barton argued that investigating and prosecuting drug addicts was a “waste of police time”.
He has called for the decriminalisation of hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine, arguing that if they were supplied on the NHS, addicts would not need to go out and commit crime in order to buy illegal narcotics.
Cannabis and the law
- Cannabis is categorised as a Class B drug and anyone caught in possession could face up to five years in prison, as well as an unlimited fine.
- Anyone convicted of the production and supply of cannabis could face up to 14-years in prison as well as an unlimited fine.
- Police forces are able to apply the law as they see fit with some areas taking a more lenient approach to drug use. In 2001 police in Lambeth, south London, trialled a scheme where people caught smoking the drug simply had it confiscated and received a warning. The system was tightened up in 2002.