Most people caught with cannabis will still be let off with a caution despite Gordon Brown's tougher stance on the drug, it was reported today.
The Prime Minister's determination to send a clear message on the danger of cannabis appeared to be undermined by police chiefs insisting they will continue to "confiscate and warn" in cases of simple possession.
Chief constables are also discussing whether fixed penalty fines should be handed out to cannabis offenders.
Mr Brown has signalled that he will reverse the downgrading to class C, which happened four years ago under his predecessor Tony Blair. He feels so strongly that he is understood to be ready to ignore the recommendation of an expert panel of advisers not to return cannabis to class B.
Nearly six out of 10 cases of cannabis possession used to be dealt with by arrest and formal caution before it was downgraded. But police chiefs are not expected to return to such a practice, blamed for wasting thousands of officers' hours that could be spent on other crime-fighting duties.
The Association of Chief Police Officers told the Guardian: "The key will be the discretion for officers to strike the right balance. We do not want to criminalise young people who are experimenting."
However, the association is set to issue guidance highlighting greater powers available to officers when there are aggravating factors in cannabis possession, such as involvement of organised crime, violence or disorder. These cases were more likely to lead to arrest and prosecution.
Chief constables have backed reclassifying cannabis again because of concerns over the strength of the "skunk" version of the drug, the increase in cannabis farms in homes in Britain and the perception that officers were not dealing with it as a serious issue.
But Simon Byrne, association spokesman on cannabis and assistant chief constable of Merseyside, also emphasised that police wanted to retain flexibility and discretion over how to deal with those caught in possession.
Drug experts warned that the drug classification system was causing confusion. Roger Howard, chief executive of the UK Drug Policy Commission, said: "There will be no new powers or resources for policing if cannabis is made class B, and cannabis warnings can still be issued instead of arrest."
Mr Brown is expected to press ahead with toughening the cannabis laws despite claims that there is no scientific basis for a change.
This week he voiced his worries about cannabis, particularly skunk, as well as the message that was being sent out to young people, and the number of individuals moving on to harder drugs.
Pubdate: Thu, 01 May 2008
Source: Evening Standard (London, UK)
Copyright: 2008 Associated Newspapers Ltd.
Author: Nicholas Cecil
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?207 (Cannabis - United Kingdom)