UK cannabis users have cause for cheer this week, as the country’s National Police Chiefs’ Council has announced a new policy that gives individual officers discretion when it comes to small time marijuana possession. Though the laws on the books say small amounts can land you five years of jail time, the officers’ association says that constables are now allowed to let people off with a mere recommendation that they seek addiction treatment.
The announcement follows a high profile comment from West Midlands Chief Constable Dave Thompson, who said last week that his force declines to document cannabis possession offenses by young people.
“My answer is let’s not give everyone a cannabis warning — it’s disastrous for their life chances,” Thompson explained to the House of Commons’ home affairs committee.
The Police Chiefs’ Council spokesperson Jason Harwin put a finer point on it this week, saying, “There is strong evidence to suggest that recommending minor offenders for early intervention treatment instead of pursuing convictions can prevent re-offending and result in the best outcome for both the user and the criminal justice system.”
Harwin underlined that individual constables will have wiggle room when it comes to operational priorities, and reminded that the 43 British police forces his organization represents will continue to go after big-time drug smugglers.
In response to the announcement, the Daily Mail sought comment from anti-drug crusaders who were, predictably, non-plussed by the thought of the police taking apprehension of small time cannabis users off their docket.
The National Drug Prevention Alliance’s David Raynes said, “Deliberately undermining the law on cannabis is no part of the NPCC’s function.” Co-editor of the website Conservative Woman Kathy Gyngell also weighed in; “This is astonishing in view of the cumulative relationship between cannabis and violence.”
A report from Parliament last year found that in May 2018, 58 percent of prisons in England and Wales were overcrowded. In 2016-2017, the average cost per prisoner in England and Wales was £22,933.
That conservative pundits turn from the dire state of the prison-industrial complex to ascribe to the Alex Berenson take of reefer madness should come as no surprise. But pseudo science no longer appears to be enough motivation for the UK’s police force to spend its days chasing down cannabis users.
Those looking for further motivation behind the shift in policy would do well to remember the embarrassing public response to what this vaunted publication called “perhaps the smallest drug bust in history,” which went down last year. Two West Yorkshire police officers were roundly mocked when the department posted a photo to Facebook of a medium-sized nug that they had taken off of a man who was hanging out by himself in a park. “Hope you manage to nail Pablo Escobar this afternoon,” commented one Facebook user.
Officials responded with threats of prosecution to those belittling the mini-bust on social media at the time. Apparently, they’ve decided to try another strategy in 2019.