Two British police forces have been experimenting with the decriminalization of all illegal drugs, according to Vice News.
The report, which was penned by columnist Max Daly, suggests the Durham and Avon & Somerset police departments have been running a slick new diversion program that allows people caught in possession of any illicit substance, including cocaine and heroin, to avoid being entered into the criminal justice system.
The program simply allows drug offenders (even those with a criminal record) to take a three-and-a-half hour drug class rather than be sent to jail. And as long as the accused emerges with a certificate showing the course was completed, the charges are dismissed.
This is the first time since 1916 that people found in possession of illegal drugs in the United Kingdom have escaped the possibility of prison. So far, 80 percent of those busted for drug possession have taken advantage of the program—over half of which are cases involving marijuana.
The report suggests that people caught holding harder substances are less likely to participate in the program. But police say most of these individuals have an extensive criminal record and are eager to be locked up again.
Unfortunately, the program is not exactly designed to let drug offenders off with a slap on the wrist every time they go face-to-face with a judge—offenders are given only one chance to get their shit together or they will be prosecuted and possibly even sent to prison.
Paul Bunt, the man responsible for creating the program for the Avon & Somerset police department, told Vice that, so far, none of the people who have entered the program since April have been arrested again.
In Durham, police have implemented a slightly different program—one that gives those caught in possession of hard drugs the option of entering into a four-month contract in exchange for a suspended sentence. As long as the person does not get into any trouble for the duration of his or her contract period, the drug charge gets tossed out of court.
When it comes to marijuana, Durham police simply do not care. Last year, the force announced that it would no longer arrest people caught in possession of small amounts of weed.
Interestingly, there is some speculation that the government may be watching these diversion programs to see how they might work on a larger level. Vice reports that Home Office has “an appetite” for ways to decriminalize drugs, but prefers to call them “diversion” programs to prevent media sensationalism.
“If the pilots are given positive evaluations there is a real prospect that the Home Office and Public Health England could set up a UK-wide programme similar to those being tested in Bristol and Durham,” Daly wrote.
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