In a new blueprint drawn up by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing, people caught in possession of substances such as cocaine, cannabis and MDMA will not be prosecuted, but instead offered alternative pathways including education and treatment programs.
The move aims to take pressure away from police officers for an offence that is often viewed by members of the public and even those who work in the police force and in the criminal justice system as a public health issue rather than a criminal matter.
Those caught by police in possession of personal amounts of illegal substances for the first time would not have to go through the court system and no criminal record would be recorded. However, if the person is caught again after they have been to education or treatment, they may be liable to prosecution.
Of the 43 police forces in the UK, 14 already run similar diversionary schemes for people caught with drugs, including Durham, West Midlands and Somerset.
Somerset’s Drug Education Programme has been running since April 2015 and offers those caught in possession of drugs a place on a 3.5-hour drug education workshop run by a local drug service. Once the person caught with drugs successfully completes the course they will receive a letter which confirms that the offence that they would have been charged with has been dropped.
Previously the NPCC has voiced the concerns of their officers regarding policing drug possession charges. In a paper submitted to the Home Affairs Committee Drug Enquiry in April 2022, they said, “The emphasis on a criminal approach to drug misuse and ‘simple’ possession cases, as opposed to primarily a health problem … stigmatises individuals and can lead to ineffective, inconsistent or inappropriate punitive sanctions being imposed by the courts on people who would be better assisted by treatment and recovery-based requirements, either within or outside the criminal justice system (CJS)”.
The public also seems to favour less harsh penalties for drug possession. A YouGov poll published in October shows that Londoner’s 50% of Londoners support decriminalising cannabis within London, compared to just 33% who oppose the idea.
London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has spoken out many times in support of decriminalising drug possession for the people of London. In 2021 he made the issue one of his reelection campaign promises and made plans to follow through with the scheme at the beginning of this year.
In July the Home Office led by Suella Braverman released their white paper on drugs which aimed at punishing the drug user, who it says is responsible for high drug demand and rising crime on our streets.
The white paper, “Swift, Certain, Tough; New Consequences for Drug Possession” has been labelled ‘punitive’ by Transform. It begins with, “Drugs are illegal for a reason. They are harmful, affecting both physical and mental health, relationships, career prospects, and wider society. Individuals who use so-called recreational illegal substances must understand that they are not only risking their health, but funding dangerous criminals who rely on fear, exploitation and violence.”
The new national blueprint puts the NPCC at odds with The Home Office which said this to The Telegraph, “Drugs ruin lives and devastate communities which is why the Government is committed to tackling both the supply and demand for drugs, as set out in the 10-year Drug Strategy.
“Our White Paper on new, tougher penalties for drug possession set out proposals for tackling demand and we have welcomed views on this. We will be publishing our response in due course.”