Yard Relaxes Approach To Cannabis Offences

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Jun 15, 2001.

  1. By Nick Hopkins, Crime Correspondent
    Source: Guardian Unlimited

    Scotland Yard has officially endorsed a controversial plan that will relax the force's attitude towards cannabis possession, the Guardian can reveal.
    Senior officers, including the commissioner Sir John Stevens, believe that an initiative in south London whereby people caught with cannabis will be given on-the-spot warnings rather than being cautioned, arrested and possibly charged is "sensible and progressive".

    The scheme in Lambeth, which is due to start soon, has been given formal "pilot" status with officers hoping it will roll out across the capital after three to six months if, as expected, it proves a success.

    The Met is bracing itself for criticism that it is "going soft" on cannabis, but the force wants to take a lead because, officers argue, in the grand scheme of crime, cannabis possession is a low priority.

    "What is the point of spending hours in the police station charging someone for possessing cannabis, with all the paperwork that involves, when magistrates courts routinely only fine users £10 to £20?" said a Scotland Yard source.

    "Our research shows the legal process costs the taxpayer up to £10,000."

    Last night, the plan was welcomed by Drugscope, Britain's leading centre of expertise on drugs, which stressed it was in line with the National Drugs Strategy: its priority is the most dangerous drugs.

    "It's clearly a pragmatic response," said the chief executive, Roger Howard. "However, there is still a fundamental dilemma. According to the statute book, cannabis users elsewhere in the UK could still be imprisoned for similar minor offences."

    The idea of formally adopt ing a relaxed attitude to cannabis was first floated by commander Brian Paddick, who is in charge of policing in Lambeth, an area that includes high crime and drug dealing areas such as Brixton.

    The idea is to free uniformed officers to tackle more serious crimes. Anyone caught with cannabis will be given a warning - a lesser penalty than a caution.

    A warning is recorded only by local police and does not have to be declared by someone applying for a job. Drugs found will be confiscated.

    Mr Paddick was the first senior officer in Britain to offi cially sanction such a tactic. Scotland Yard was initially sceptical, saying it was "a local initiative" that had no bearing on force-wide strategy.

    But since then Mr Paddick's plans have been reviewed by Sir John, his deputy Ian Blair, and the assistant commissioner, Mike Todd. They agreed that it was sensible, especially as many junior officers already treat cannabis possession "with a slap on the wrist".

    Issuing warnings is allowed under discretionary powers given by the Home Officethough no force has dared to make this policy.

    Justifying his proposal, Mr Paddick said his officers needed more time to tackle "the cancer" of crime relating to crack cocaine.

    "I've never met anyone who had to commit crime to fund a cannabis habit, but crack cocaine users commit robbery, burglary and car crime."

    It takes two officers up to five hours to process a cannabis possession arrest, he said. Under the new system, it could be 10 minutes.

    Gerald Howarth MP, a member of the home affairs select committee in the last parliament, attacked the Met's decision: "This is sending all the wrong signals on law enforce ment in the metropolis... Drug offences and abuse lead to theft, burglary and muggings."

    The last available figures, for 1999, show London police and customs made 19,255 separate seizures of cannabis - confiscating 492 kilos of the drug in its herbal form, 1,597 kilos of resin, plus 4,300 plants.

    A total of 19,196 people were either found guilty of offences involving cannabis, given fines or cautioned - in contrast to just 663 for offences involving crack and 1,497 involving heroin.

    Source: Guardian Unlimited, The (UK)
    Author: Nick Hopkins, Crime Correspondent
    Published: Friday June 15, 2001
    Copyright: 2001 Guardian Newspapers Limited
    Contact: letters@guardian.co.uk
    Website: http://www.guardian.co.uk/

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