What gives police the right to legalise cannabis on the sly?
PC Plod, on coming across someone in a spaced-out state who is giving off the unmistakeable aroma of ‘weed’, is now expected to step aside and continue on his way as though nothing is awry.
The absurd diktat was partly driven by the desire of senior police officers to reduce the use of stop and search, which is particularly resented by some in the black community. The latest figures show that black people are eight times more likely to be stopped than their white equivalents.
It may surprise some that, according to the same figures, black people are less likely to have drugs on them than white suspects. So maybe they are being unfairly targeted by overzealous police.
Duty: At least five forces in England have announced without apparent shame that they will turn a blind eye to cannabis if it is for personal consumption. Police in Avon and Somerset, Durham, Derbyshire, Dorset and Surrey are taking this lenient approach, and we can be certain others are doing so less publicly.
Meanwhile, some forces are being almost equally indulgent towards growers of cannabis. Small-scale producers routinely escape prosecution in Durham. Devon and Cornwall Police uncovered 194 cannabis farms in four years but only brought charges against 79 people. The rest were cautioned or given warnings.
All this is thoroughly bad. The police have a duty to uphold the law. If they visibly fail to do so, they are actually encouraging people to break it in the knowledge that even if they are caught they will very likely be let off.
It’s not just true of drugs, of course. By disclosing that they no longer have the time to investigate ‘low-level’ crimes such as burglary, the police are effectively giving thieves a green light. Steal a smartphone by all means, but better not take the Mercedes this time.
And so inveterate consumers of cannabis, and those who grow and supply the stuff on a modest scale, know they are safe even though the maximum sentence for possession is supposedly five years in prison, and a stiff 15 years for selling the stuff. In some countries such as Holland, and American states such as Colorado, they are at least honest enough to have had a public debate before – misguidedly, in my view – decriminalising cannabis. In Britain we are legitimising it on the sly while going through the charade of pretending it remains against the law.