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The war on cannabis is only just getting started in Durham

The war on cannabis is only just getting started in Durham

Cannabis smokers in County Durham STILL face arrest – three years after a ‘softer’ stance on dope smokers was announced.

Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg sparked controversy in 2015 by declaring the force should stop actively pursuing small-scale users.

However exclusive ChronicleLive figures reveal cannabis users are still being prosecuted – and criminalised – for blazing up.

Over 40 people have been either charged or summonsed to court by the force so far in 2018 alone for cannabis possession.

The figure is only slightly down from the same period in 2013, two years before Mr Hogg’s declaration.

And it is sharply up on the same period in 2017, where there were 28 suspects hauled to court.

Durham Police Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg

This week Mr Hogg re-ignited his call for drug reform laws in light of Lord William Hague’s claim that the war on drugs has failed.

The senior Tory called for recreational use of cannabis to legalised.

And Mr Hogg added: “Lord Hague’s statement that the war on drugs has failed echoes the call for reform of the drug laws which I have been making for some time.

“Drug users should be able to seek effective treatment without fear of prosecution, and control of the drugs market should be taken out of the hands of organised crime groups.

“Other countries, such as Portugal, have seen drug deaths dramatically reduce as a consequence of policy changes.”

In 2015, he announced a local overhaul of cannabis policy insisting scarce police funds should be used to tackle major crime.

The Checkpoint scheme was launched, in which drug-related offenders sign bespoke contracts as an alternative to prosecution.

Data obtained by ChronicleLive shows there have been over 4,500 cannabis-related incidents in Durham Constabulary’s patch since 2013.

Analysis of those logs suggest officers are increasingly dealing with those caught in possession of the Class B drug with a ‘cannabis or khat warning’.

The out-of-court disposal serves as a punishment but crucially doesn’t criminalise those caught with it.

The war on cannabis is only just getting started in Durham
The war on cannabis is only just getting started in Durham

The force states it is instead focusing resources not on personal users but those profiting on the back of the drug trade.

Freedom of Information figures reveal the force has investigated over 80 more serious drug-trade related offences linked to cannabis this year, mainly trafficking the drug.

The plant has also been linked to modern slavery cases which are under investigation.

A Durham Constabulary spokeswoman said anyone caught lighting up in front of an officer will still more than likely be arrested.

“However, we do not expect officers to apply for search warrants where there is a single cannabis plant in a house,” added the spokesperson.

“If there is a commercial cannabis grow, then we will act promptly.

“As a force, we are actively targeting the dealers and the organised crime groups, not the low-level users.

“It is about intelligence gathering and deploying our resources to best target those who are harming our communities.

“We are not going soft on drugs, we are going sensible.”

Full story is available here.

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