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Wednesday, 4 September, 2002, 17:18 GMT 18:18 UK
Police to get new cannabis rules
David Blunkett
Mr Blunkett is downgrading cannabis to a Class C drug
Cannabis users will face a 'three spliffs and out' tactic from police when the drug is downgraded next year, it has emerged.

Anybody caught with the drug once or twice will receive a formal warning and have it confiscated.


Under the new classification, cannabis possession will be policed in a way which is not resource intensive

Bob Ainsworth
But a third offence within the space of a year will mean tougher penalties, including a caution or arrest and charge for possession.

The guidelines come from the Association of Chief Police Officers at its annual drugs conference, which was under way in Blackpool on Wednesday.

The new rules, expected to be outlined in detail at the conference on Thursday, follow confusion among rank and file officers about how new laws on cannabis should be applied.

Home Secretary David Blunkett's decision to reclassify the drug from Class B to Class C in the Misuse of Drugs Act will mean people cannot be arrested for possessing small quantities, although officers will retain the power of arrest in certain cases.

'Serious penalties'

Explaining its new stance an ACPO spokesman said: "It is effectively three strikes and out and you could be arrested.

"The guidelines are in response to the home secretary's reclassification of cannabis.

"You will be given a warning for the first two times but if you are caught a third time within a 12-month period you will face more serious penalties."

Home Office Minister Bob Ainsworth told the conference that more police resources would be freed up to tackle problems surrounding harder drugs under the new plans.

'Credible' policy

"Under the new classification, cannabis possession will be policed in a way which is not resource intensive," said the minister.

"In most cases a warning will be sufficient together with confiscation of the drug.

"But where there are aggravating factors the police will retain the power of arrest."


This three strikes policy is likely to hit those communities who are subject to the most stop and searches at present

Roger Howard
DrugScope
Drug education would become more "credible" with the reclassifying of cannabis in line with the dangers it posed to communities, said Mr Ainsworth.

"We have to have effective education if we are going to reduce the problem that we have," he said.

"Young people are not stupid. We need to be able to talk to them in credible terms if we are going to be able to stop them experimenting and potentially becoming problem drug users."

Crack cocaine

Under the guidelines, quantities of up to three grams of cannabis will be considered as being for personal use.

But anyone who refuses to hand over the drug or challenges the police to take action will also face arrest, the spokesman said.

Andy Hayman, deputy assistant commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the new guidelines would simply firm up a policy which was already in practise on the beat.

He said: "It will give clarity, both to the community and to the officers on the streets and will formalise what is already going on in many areas."

Move criticised

But Roger Howard, chief executive of the charity DrugScope, said the 'three strikes' guidelines suggested that some "more conservative elements in the police" were attempting to "frustrate ministerial intentions and retain their powers".

He went on: "The Home Office assured us at the time of reclassification that the power of arrest would only be used in exceptional circumstances, where aggravating factors were present.

"Repeat personal possession is not, in our view, an aggravating factor."

The revised stance on cannabis is expected to come in to effect by July of next year, once Mr Blunkett's policy is established.

Delegates at the conference will also hear how New York has tackled the problem of hard drugs, including crack cocaine.

Dr Bruce Johnson is expected to outline America's experience of the drug, how it affects communities and what lessons Britain can learn.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jon Kay
"Senior police officers insist this is a realistic response to the government's decision"
Andy Hayman of the Metropolitan Police
"It is still illegal to have possession of cannabis"

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02 Sep 02 | Politics
16 Aug 02 | England
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