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Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 08:11 GMT
Public back cannabis trial
Pro-cannabis march
The pro-cannabis lobby has grown in recent years
A survey of residents is expected to back the "softly, softly" approach to possession of cannabis in the south London borough of Lambeth.

The experiment, pioneered by controversial Metropolitan Police Commander Brian Paddick, is thought to have saved many hours of police time.

Scotland Yard's own review will show crime figures in the area have fallen, while arrests for more serious drugs offences have risen.

By-products of relaxation in relation to cannabis [laws] been have proven to lead to crime reduction

Lee Jasper
Mayoral adviser
Commander Paddick was moved from his post in Lambeth earlier this week while accusations about his private life are investigated, but many in the borough believe he should return.

Since July 2001, people caught with cannabis in the borough have been dealt with informally rather than arrested.

People found in possession of small quantities are let off with a formal warning rather than being arrested or cautioned.

And the independent survey of the borough's residents is expected to show broad-based support for this new approach.

Street robbery

Mayoral policing adviser Lee Jasper told BBC Radio 4's Today programme both reports showed the scheme had worked effectively.

"By-products of relaxation in relation to cannabis [laws] have been proven to lead to crime reduction - certainly in street robbery - and had a huge impact in relation to dealing with class A hard drugs particularly crack cocaine."

Mr Jasper said the "sensible attitude" had "freed up tremendous police resources", as well as offering research for a wider debate.

There's really only one answer and that's treat it in the same way we treat tobacco

Francis Wilkinson
Ex-chief constable
"The government should be seriously thinking about decriminalising cannabis."

The scheme is taking place in the context of government signals that it wishes to re-classify cannabis from a class 'B' to a class 'C' drug.

But Home Secretary David Blunkett has emphasised that although he wants to reclassify cannabis he does not intend to legalise or decriminalise it.

Praise for scheme

Cannabis possession and supply would remain a criminal offence, attracting maximum sentences of five years for supply and two years for possession.

But rather than arresting people caught with cannabis, police will be more likely to issue a warning, a caution or a court summons.

Francis Wilkinson, former chief constable of Gwent and patron of drugs charity Transform, told Today the Lambeth scheme was only "fine as an experiment".

"It has had a positive local effect, but it's not a responsible line for national policy.

"A government can't seriously say we will allow the stuff to be used... but we are still going to target the people who import it.

Reinstatement call

"There's really only one answer and that's treat it in the same way we treat tobacco, legalise it root-and-branch."

Last November, a home office minister praised the relaxed cannabis laws being piloted in Lambeth.

Bob Ainsworth, on a visit to the area, said the introduction of a trial project in the London borough had so far been a success.

Supporters of Commander Paddick are planning to call for his reinstatement at a meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority.

Lambeth residents who support him are attending a scheduled full meeting of the authority on Thursday where they will be supported by members of the London Assembly Green Group who sit on the authority.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"South London has been a laboratory for a unique experiment"
The BBC's Claire Marshall
"Thousands of hours of police time have been saved"
Mayoral Policing Adviser Lee Jasper
"We want precious police resources concentrated on serious crime"
Former chief constable of Gwent Francis Wilkinson
"It is not a responsible line for national policy"
See also:

13 Mar 02 | England
Borough debates cannabis cafes
24 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Cannabis laws to be relaxed
02 Jul 01 | UK Politics
Cannabis 'not being decriminalised'
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