A study has begun to find out the effects of a "softly, softly" cannabis
police policy on children in south London.

It comes after evidence pupils believe cannabis has been legalised since
the policy was introduced and some as young as nine have smoked the drug.

The policy pilot was introduced in Lambeth by Metropolitan police commander
Brian Paddick in 2001, sees those in possession of the drug warned instead
of arrested.

The area's new police chief Brian Moore said all schools in the borough
were being surveyed about the effects on youngsters.

Mr Moore, who replaced Commander Paddick after he was moved to a desk job
at Scotland Yard, said: "Some opinion formers have raised concerns more
children of the nine and 10-year-old level are taking cannabis than before
the pilot."

Lambeth's 66 primary and 10 secondary schools are being asked whether they
have excluded more children for cannabis since the scheme began.

They are also being asked whether more cannabis and drug paraphernalia has
been found.

Experts' assessment

Mr Moore said: "The feedback is very clear so far that there has been no
escalation, which I think is a re-assuring response to some of the concerns."

He has asked for 25 experts, including educationalists, teachers, youth
workers and drugs workers to look at the scheme.

They will look into whether there is any evidence of the pilot affecting
the health of children.

There have also been claims of people being drawn into Lambeth to buy and
sell cannabis as a result of the scheme.

Hundreds warned

But Deputy Assistant Commissioner Mike Fuller said: "There is no
discernible difference in terms of the number of people we are finding in
possession of cannabis compared to before the pilot."

A total of 1,190 people have been warned for possession since the scheme
began last July.

Of those, 52.7% were from outside the borough, a similar proportion to
those caught in possession before the pilot, suggesting people were not
flooding into the area to buy drugs.

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Pubdate: Tue, 25 Jun 2002
Source: BBC News (UK Web)
Copyright: 2002 BBC
Contact: http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/talking_point/forum/
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Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/558