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Cannabis Laws Are A No-man's Land

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
Government figures reveal that police have opened a new front against drugs.

But one senior officer admits police are thinking the unthinkable - moving those who smoke pot in their own homes way down the list of priorities.

Imagine a discretionary law which police sometimes enforce but at other times don't bother.

Picture a crime in which you will get thrown in jail for up to two years on occasions but get let off with a caution on others.

Welcome to modern Britain, a country characterised by an increasingly confused attitude to cannabis.

Ever since the drug was downgraded from class B to class C in 2004, we have been caught in a no-man's land of legislation which police officers are feeling increasingly unsure, nervous even, about how to negotiate.

Recent figures show that cannabis use has once again fallen significantly, particularly among young people.

This is an extremely encouraging sign that the Government's decision to downgrade has had positive benefits.

However, we are increasingly being caught in the entirely ludicrous situation where our police officers are unsure whether to arrest people for possession of the drug.

The alleged cannabis cafe in Lancing is a perfect example.

Dozens of officers took part in the most recent raid on the heavily fortified premises in Freshbrook Road, using a tractor to tear the wall down. But while money and resources are being used in this way to target those suspected of dealing in cannabis, the officer who led the operation has told The Argus his force is unlikely to punish individual users of the drug.

Although no fault of the police, a mixed message is being sent - it's perfectly OK to smoke cannabis behind closed doors but don't be caught with it in too large quantities or you will be punished.

Chief Inspector Lawrence Hobbs, district commander for Adur, conceded few resources were devoted to tackling those who smoke cannabis in small quantities in their own homes.

Mr Hobbs said: "We are not turning a blind eye to it but we are not specifically targeting it either.

"We are not going out of our way to tackle those who smoke cannabis behind closed doors.

"Tackling cannabis is not high on the priorities of the police force.

"However, targeting the people that sell the drug is, and we will continue to expend a lot of time and energy in tracking these people down. Tackling class A drugs is also a very high priority and we will continue to catch the people who both use and sell them."

Mr Hobbs would not be drawn on his personal opinion as to whether he would like to see cannabis upgraded to class B.

But all the signs are that it soon will be. Almost immediately after taking power, Gordon Brown announced a two-year study which should reverse David Blunkett's 2004 decision.

This would, at the very least, give police more confidence to act decisively.

At the moment, cannabis laws state that punishment for having the drug largely depends on what age you are.

Home Office advice says young people caught in possession of a small quantity should be arrested and given police cautions, while adults caught in possession of the same amount are "unlikely" to be arrested.

It states that the current maximum tarriff for being caught in possession of cannabis is two years, a reduction from five years, while the maximum tariff for dealing cannabis was increased from five years to 14 years.

Sussex Chief Constable Martin Richards, who supports a return to class B status, has admitted his officers face a tough task interpreting the law.

He said: "There is a feeling that reclassification is a good idea and the right thing to do. My focus is on the top level of dealers blighting the beauty of Sussex.

"I have officers on the streets who have to make decisions on a day-to-day basis and they have to use discretion and judgment depending on the circumstances."

Many believe police officers should not be forced to work like this and Britain needs to take a firm line on cannabis once and for all.

Either fully legalise it or criminalise it, in other words.

The middle ground, they say, is doing nobody any favours.

Source: Argus, The (UK)
Copyright: 2007 Newsquest Media Group
Contact: editor@theargus.co.uk
Website: The Argus Brighton Hove & Sussex news sport jobs and local information
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