The Law Needs to Catch Up, but Look: Weed Is Effectively Legal in the UK

It seems like every month there's new evidence to suggest the majority of police are turning a blind eye to cannabis crimes.

by Mac Hackett
Aug 23 2016, 1:46pm

Some people enjoying 4/20 in Hyde Park (Photo: Jake Lewis)

Arrests for cannabis possession in England and Wales have fallen by 46 percent since 2010. Cautions have dropped by 48 percent and charges by 33 percent.

In July of 2015, Durham's police chief said cannabis growers will only be targeted if they're growing commercially, and that users wouldn't be targeted unless they smoke it in a "blatant" way.

That same month, Sara Thornton, Leader of the National Police Chiefs Council, said policing weed has "never been a top priority", adding that police forces are more likely to simply "record" reports of small-scale cannabis farms, rather than investigating them.

Four more police chiefs across the country followed Durham's lead soon after, making similar announcements. One even acknowledged that cannabis can have medicinal benefits – a direct contradiction to British law, which says there are no medical uses for the drug.

Today, it was revealed that only one in four people caught with weed are actually charged, and that 40 percent are let off with a caution.

For whatever reason (most likely: targets and antiquated attitudes), a select few police forces are still gunning for weed users – West Midlands Police reported a 40 percent rise in cannabis arrests earlier this year, and there's still a huge disparity in how police target people of different races. In London, for example, black people are charged for cannabis possession at five times the rate of white people, and cautioned three times more.

But looking at all of the above, you could make a convincing case that weed has essentially been decriminalised across much of the country, because if the odds are as low as they are that you'll be arrested and charged for smoking it or growing it, what's the difference? I'm not saying that's what you should do, of course, because it is still very much illegal by law – but, you know, there just aren't very many people that bothered about enforcing this particular law.

Now all that needs to happen is for Westminster to catch up with the police. Although, judging by the majority of politicians' absolute refusal to engage in any kind of grown-up debate on the topic, it's unlikely that's going to happen any time soon.

More on VICE:

The NHS Is Trialling a Cannabis Vape Pen, So I Tried It for Myself

People in the West Midlands Are Really Into Growing Weed

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