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Only 10% of Those Caught With Cannabis Are Taken to Court, Mail Survey Reveals

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More than nine out of ten cannabis users are escaping prosecution after being found with the drug, a Daily Mail survey has found. Instead of taking them to court, police have been handing out thousands of warnings or cautions instead.

The findings raised fears last night that the "soft justice" taken to court approach to cannabis will continue despite Gordon Brown's announcement last week that the drug would be upgraded from Class C to B. But even after the Prime Minister officially reclassifies the drug at the start of next year warnings are likely to continue.

Street warnings for possessing cannabis were introduced after Labour's decision to downgrade the drug in January 2004. Police want to go on using warnings to save time and to avoid criminalising young people — which means the prosecution rate may remain low.

The survey of forces discovered that in Devon and Cornwall, only 4 per cent of offenders were charged. The rest were let off with a cannabis warning, which does not carry a criminal record, or a caution.

Large police forces also appeared reluctant to prosecute users. The Met and Merseyside charged only 9 per cent of offenders. Other areas where 90 per cent or more of users escaped a criminal charge included the City of London, Staffordshire and Warwickshire. Shadow home secretary David Davis said: "If this is allowed to continue it will render Gordon Brown's U-turn effectively useless."

However the survey, which covers 2006-07, revealed some forces are willing to take strong action. Northumbria Police, for example, charged 61 per cent of offenders. Five per cent of those caught received a street warning, with the remainder getting a caution. The West Midlands, Thames Valley and North Yorkshire forces charged roughly one in every four of those caught, and Surrey 40 per cent. Northumbria Police Deputy Chief Constable David Warcup said its policy had been a success. "Whatever its classification, possession of cannabis is illegal and we will take the appropriate action to deal with it," he said.

Devon and Cornwall Police said they followed Association of Chief Police Officers guidelines in relation to charging cannabis users.

Street warnings are supposed to take into factors into account such as whether the user is a repeat offender. Campaigners had hoped that they would be discarded when the drug was reclassified. But the Government has opted to retain them as part of a system of "escalation". First-time offenders are expected to receive a warning and will face prosecution only for a second or possibly third infringement.

The rules governing under 18s will not change. They will continue to receive a reprimand and a final warning before prosecution takes place.

A Home Office spokesman said: "A more robust enforcement approach for cannabis possession is required and a system of escalation is necessary to ensure that repeat offenders face appropriate action."

Source: The Daily Mail
Copyright: 2008, The Daily Mail
Contact: James Slack
Website: Only 10pc of those caught with cannabis are taken to court, Mail survey reveals | the Daily Mail
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