Joining the increasing wave of decriminalization rulings sweeping the globe, law enforcement in the English city of Durham have signaled to its citizens that they will no longer prosecute for minor infractions of cannabis cultivation and possession.
“It’s about keeping people out of the criminal justice system and reducing costs,” says Durham Chief Constable Mike Barton in an interview with Telegraph. “It’s also about seeking to prevent future [drug] use by keeping people out of prison.”
Cannabis is currently categorized in the U.K. as a Class B drug, meaning anyone caught in possession of the substance could face up to five years in prison.
Barton, a 34-year police veteran, told Telegraph that police need assistance tackling the growing blight of drugs, but it was unrealistic to think that “we can arrest our way out of the problem.”
The decriminalization announcement comes amid growing concern regarding the inordinate amount of minority members prosecuted for cannabis possession. In the U.S., marijuana conviction rates are often greatly skewed against minority persons, leading to uneven punishment and shattered lives. According to the Washington Post, a study by the ACLU with data from 2001-2010 showed that in the District of Columbia “an African American is nearly eight times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession as a white person, even though blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates.”
The pioneering approach to police being tolerant of home cannabis growing came from Ron Hogg, Durham’s police and crime commissioner, who announced that anyone caught in possession of the drug would be given the opportunity to avoid prosecution by signing up to a “crime reduction initiative.” Telegraph reports that users who have committed less than three crimes would be eligible for the program and would only be prosecuted if they failed to comply.
While cannabis possession is still legally prohibited in England, local officers said they will not focus their energies on prosecuting individuals unless they are provoked to do so.
“By and large, we are saying it is not at the top of our list to go out and try to pick up people smoking joints on street corners,” says Hogg. “But if it’s blatant or we get complaints, officers will act.”
Durham law enforcement have said that they will continue to go after large scale cannabis farms and criminal activity associated with the drug trade, but they will not invade the homes of citizens cultivating cannabis on a smaller scale for personal use.
The new approach is a sensible solution in favor of average citizens who wish to enjoy and cultivate marijuana in the privacy of their homes while in no way harming the community at large with their actions.
“Cannabis use is still illegal and smoking it is still a crime,” says Hogg. “But if you are caught [in public], you will get this opportunity to stop reoffending.”
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