Did The UK Police Decriminalise Cannabis Behind The Scenes?

20th May 2021

New data revealed that cannabis cases are falling across the UK as barely anyone being caught with cannabis gets charged anymore.

The Telegraph reports that according to the Home Office, police forces only charge one in eight “offenders” in some parts of the UK – that’s only 13% of all cases.

At the same time, the others are escaping court with only a caution, community resolution or on-the-spot-fine. Nationally, UK forces charge only 24%, which is five per cent down from 2018.

In 2020, the paper says, of the 91,479 people caught with the class B drug in England and Wales only 21,672 were charged with the others “dealt with through out of court settlements,” meaning the individual cases did not result in a criminal record.

Also, just over 17,500 (19%) were let off with a cannabis warning, 6,148 (seven per cent) were given a caution and 7,410 (eight per cent) were given an on-the-spot fine.

The data showed that police forces in Avon & Somerset, Cleveland, Cheshire, West Midlands and Lancashire were the “toughest” when dealing with cannabis users, while only a handful of “offenders” got charged in Hampshire, Durham, Essex, Leicestershire and Surrey.

A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman said: “The law provides a range of options for dealing with those found in possession of drugs that have to be proportionate to the individual circumstances.

“Charging is one outcome and police officers can use professional judgment to make use of others, including out of court disposals and cannabis warnings.

“It is a matter for chief constables, in liaison with their police and crime commissioners, to determine the operational priorities for their force. Community resolutions help police handle low-level offending proportionately.

“Victims’ wishes are central to our decision-making and officers have established tools and guidance to help them to reach the right outcome. Officers’ decisions are examined by force scrutiny panels.

“The national strategy on charging and out-of-court disposals makes clear that community resolutions should not be used in the most serious cases.

“Officers are making decisions about whether it is fair and proportionate to give someone a criminal record for their first minor offence – when they’ve admitted responsibility, offered to remedy the crime, are considered unlikely to reoffend, and can be given a sanction that deters further offending such as attending an educational course.”

The Times reports that the number of cannabis cases fell significantly in Scotland too.

According to the data, the number of people charged has fallen by more than 40%, from 1,809 to 1,066, since 2015.

Dr Anna Ross, a research consultant and expert in drug policy, told the paper that it is “de facto decriminalisation.”

She said: “The change was brought in to make the system more efficient and reflect how most cannabis possession charges were not being prosecuted.

“The harm from cannabis lies more in its prohibition than the drug.”

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