Did The UK Just Effectively Decriminalise Cannabis Possession?

Just days after the chief constable of West Midlands Police announced that young people caught with personal amounts of cannabis would not be criminalised, a spokesman for National Police Chiefs’ Council has given permission for police forces to stop arresting cannabis offenders.

It is now up to individual chief constables to decide whether to arrest and charge, issue a ‘cannabis warning’- explaining the dangers of using the plant irresponsibly – or to simply let them go.

Not a priority

The organisation’s spokesman on drugs, chief constable Jason Harwin, is reported to have said that suggesting some form of drug treatment rather than prosecution could prevent re-offending and provide the best outcome.

His words follow those of chief constable Dave Thompson from West Midlands police, who said:

‘I don’t want our officers criminalising young people – and potentially jeopardising their life prospects – who are found in possession of small quantities of cannabis and are not repeat offenders.

‘Our primary role is protecting young people and going after offenders, such as members of organised crime gangs or those who carry weapons, who pose the greatest risk to our communities.’

Alternative punishments

Talking about how those found with cannabis would be treated from now on, Harwin said:

‘There are a range of options for dealing with those found in possession of cannabis or who cultivate the plant that are proportionate to individual circumstances – these include out-of-court disposals and cannabis warnings, as well as prosecution.’

Changing stance

This new change in policy follows in the footsteps of Durham Constabulary, who announced in 2015 that they would no longer be arresting cannabis users and small-scale growers.

Surrey Police have also stated small-scale cannabis grows are not a priority.

However, despite these previous groundbreaking statements, over 40 people were charged with cannabis possession in County Durham in 2018. So this new approach is clearly not a universally followed rule and some officers will still want to keep arresting cannabis users.

With parliament in the United Kingdom struggling to keep up with a failed drug war, it is the heads of police forces who are having to step up and effect change across the UK.

Who would have ever imagined such a thing happening?

Still illegal

It should be noted, however, that these moves are not to be mistaken for decriminalisation or legalisation. It’s more of a recognition that police forces across the country are stretched.

Nevertheless, this is a very encouraging step towards a more humane and tolerant approach to dealing with cannabis in the UK. This should be applauded.

There’s still quite obviously a very long way to go, but we are, at the very least, going in the right direction.

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