DRUGS LAWS: Police Retain Discretion over Arrest for Cannabis Use ; Cannabis Is Reclassified, but the Home Secretary Refuses to Introduce Reforms to the Regulations on Heroin and Ecstasy
Burrell, Ian, The Independent (London, England)
DOPESMOKERS WHO had rolled a celebratory joint in honour of the Home Secretary finally relaxing Britain's cannabis laws may have spluttered in frustration yesterday when David Blunkett decided possession of the drug should remain an arrestable offence.
Although the Home Secretary went ahead as expected with his proposal to reclassify cannabis from Class B to Class C, he appeared to have reacted to criticisms that he was "going soft on drugs".
And so instead of implementing a blanket policy treating marijuana possession as a non-arrestable offence, he announced a hybrid system, under which police could hold some people caught with the drug, in certain circumstances.
Those who smoke cannabis near a school or repeatedly light up in a public place where other people object to their drug use could still find themselves being marched to the police station.
The caveats will please police officers who have complained of having joints waved defiantly in their faces by drug users in Brixton, south London, where the Metropolitan Police has been piloting a softer stance on cannabis.
But they will also allow police to retain a considerable degree of discretion in dealing with cannabis users. Welcoming Mr Blunkett's announcement yesterday, the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) said: "The retention of the police power of arrest will enable the police to have greater flexibility in dealing with incidents on the street."
Such powers will worry supporters of cannabis decriminalisation, who would point to a recent study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that appeared to show a minority of officers were already pursuing something of a personal crusade against marijuana.
The study found that 3 per cent of police were responsible for 20 per cent of cannabis possession arrests and that some police saw it as their duty to help rid society of all drugs.
Mr Blunkett said yesterday Acpo would soon issue national guidelines to police forces, explaining the definition of the "aggravating circumstances" that would make cannabis possession arrestable.
Drugs agencies hope the guidance will help to create a level playing field and end the "postcode lottery" that currently results with different approaches being taken to the drug in neighbouring police divisions. Mr Blunkett said the guidelines would "ensure that in the vast majority of cases officers will confiscate the drug and issue a warning".
If this is the case, the changes will have a noticeable effect on the policing of cannabis, which in the year 2000 led to 75,000 arrests for possession, with some offenders being fined and a small minority imprisoned.
Last night Roger Howard, chief executive of the charity DrugScope, pointed out that even after reclassification people could face being sent to jail for up to two years for "simple possession".
He also voiced concerns over Mr Blunkett's proposals for tougher measures against those involved in the supply of cannabis. Mr Blunkett said he …
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Publication information: Article title: DRUGS LAWS: Police Retain Discretion over Arrest for Cannabis Use ; Cannabis Is Reclassified, but the Home Secretary Refuses to Introduce Reforms to the Regulations on Heroin and Ecstasy. Contributors: Burrell, Ian - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: July 11, 2002. Page number: 4. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.