The Mayor of London is reported to be going ahead with his election promise, announced in the Spring of 2021, to decriminalise cannabis in London. A leaked story published by The Telegraph claims Sadiq Khan wants to put a stop to the criminalisation of young people caught with the drug.
The plan reportedly aims for the diversion of under 25’s away from the courts and a potential criminal record, and instead to offer those caught in possession of drugs the opportunity to partake in education and advocacy style courses or counselling. Police officers will be instructed not to arrest young people and to take them back to their family home instead of locking them in the cells, a move that is intended to free-up police time and resources for more serious offences.
Speaking to leafie, Paul North of drug policy think tank Volteface said “The combination of socio-economic conditioning and policing strategy can result in a divisive relationship between communities and the police, causing psychological, punitive and societal damage. Putting young people into the criminal justice system does not address the root causes of why someone might be in possession of drugs and leaving a criminal justice footprint can have significant implications on future prospects. It is therefore vital that policymakers up and down the UK adopt evidence-based diversion schemes to provide an opportunity for effective intervention and education, providing a crucial pathway away from further criminality.”
The pilot scheme will reportedly start in the London boroughs of Lewisham, Bexley and Greenwich and will be spearheaded by the Mayor for Lewisham Damien Egan. Mr Egan has spoken out a number of times for the benefits of decriminalising softer drugs, and against what he calls the broken UK drug laws: “Most young people arrested for possession in Lewisham have less than £25-worth of cannabis on them, so we are criminalising people over trivial offences. I would be prepared to see Lewisham used as a test-bed to pilot a legalised cannabis zone, as long as it comes with proper education and regulation.”
The scheme will be announced in February this year; it follows similar schemes run by Police and Crime Commissioners in West Midlands, Durham and Somerset. Somerset’s Drug Education Programme which has been running since April 2015 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.
Earlier this year, the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said in an interview that he wasn’t in favour of decriminalising cannabis, but that he was open to a “grown-up debate” on the issue. Despite the Labour leader’s comments, a report by Labour Campaign For Drug Policy Reform shows that 53% of people in the UK are in favour of a health-based approach to drugs, while a recent YouGov survey showed that only 32% of people are against legalising cannabis.
This article was amended to clarify the diversion scheme will apply only to cannabis, and not all Class B drugs as initially reported.