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The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Anyone caught will get a warning rather than formally arrested"
 real 56k

Friday, 15 June, 2001, 14:46 GMT 15:46 UK
Support for cannabis 'warning' trial
Rolling a cannabis joint
People found with cannabis will receive a warning
A controversial pilot scheme to let off people caught with a small amount of cannabis has had support from politicians and drug groups.

Police in Brixton, south London, want to focus their efforts on the fight against hard drugs, such as crack cocaine, and associated crimes.

Offenders will get an on-the-spot warning and the cannabis will be confiscated, but the matter will go no further.


We will be continuing to work with the community to fight drugs

Commander Brian Paddick
If the six-month scheme, starting on 2 July, is successful it may be extended for the entire Metropolitan area, a Scotland Yard spokesman said.

Police chiefs believe the new approach, described by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens as an "innovative step", could save vast amounts of police time.

They say it could take just 10 minutes of an officer's time, compared with up to 10 hours if an offender is arrested and taken to a police station for a formal caution.

'Realistic approach'

Mike Goodman, director of drugs and legal advice service Release, said the move was a "hugely significant development".

"What we are seeing is that the police are way ahead of the politicians in recognising the need to adopt a more realistic approach to the possession of cannabis," he said.

cannabis
Cannabis campaigners will march in London
"This is also the first step towards a meaningful strategy of enforcement policies based on recognising the relative harm of different drugs."

The move has also been supported by groups such as Drugscope, drug policy reform campaign group Transform, and the Cannabis Coalition, which is organising its third annual march and culture festival in Brixton on Saturday.

Cannabis Coalition spokesman Chris Sanders said the group did not promote drug use but wanted cannabis legalised for recreational, medical and industrial uses.

Lambeth area Commander Brian Paddick said officers finding people using cannabis would seize the drug, which then must be signed for by the suspect.

The cannabis would then be sealed and destroyed.

"We believe this will continue to deter people buying cannabis on the streets as they will still lose even small amounts of cannabis found in their possession," he said.

Concern

Commander Paddick said the scheme would allow officers to spend more time on the streets of the borough tackling people selling crack and all the associated crime problems brought by harder drugs.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes said he supported the police pilot.

There are dangers involved when police take the initiative rather than being led by legislation.

Janet Betts
"It seems a sensible, right use of priorities and it will be widely supported in London."

But Janet Betts, whose 18-year-old daughter Leah died after taking ecstasy in 1995, said she was concerned the move was influenced by the political massaging of crime figures.

"I've no doubt that cannabis and perhaps other drugs will be legalised within the next 10 years," she said.

"This is something that the public does not want - it's being done for convenience.

"Once this has been done, the next announcement will, be 'Look how our crime figures have gone down'."

Peter Stoker, of the National Drug Prevention Alliance does not agree with the new police approach.

"I'm concerned that people will take the message from this move from the Metropolitan Police that there is less of a deterrent about the substance and that they need to be less concerned about it as a harmful substance," he said.

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See also:

20 Jan 01 | Europe
Belgium to soften cannabis policy
31 May 01 | UK
'Pain drove me to pot'
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