More good news for rational folk. This week, the Police and Crime Commissioner of Gloucestershire announced that cannabis is no longer a priority for his force, and said he recognises that cannabis can have medical benefits – though suggested that "for others it can be the gateway to mental illness and dependence on harder drugs".
PCC Martin Surl's statement makes Gloucestershire the fifth police force in the UK to make an announcement of this sort in the space of a year, which makes you think: the police, generally, seem to have a better understanding of how to deal with weed than the British government.
"I think we're going to see more police forces come out in this way," says director of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) and former-undercover drugs detective, Neil Woods. "Durham, who started this more liberal approach to cannabis, is the only county out of the police forces in the UK that received an 'outstanding' measure by the HMRC in the last few years."
With drug policing being the single most expensive part of UK police budget, it's clear why Durham's police force was performing better than average. "This is direct evidence from Durham," says Woods. "As time goes on, I believe that evidence will be replicated more times over. It's only a matter of time [until] those financial benefits are obvious to the rest."
When Durham's Police and Crime Commissioner stated that he would not actively pursue small-time cannabis consumption and growing last July, it prompted headlines like: "Is Durham going to be the new Amsterdam?" The answer, as you probably could have guessed, was: no. Soon after, Derbyshire, Dorset and Surrey police forces also announced a newfound leniency towards personal growing and consumption, and now you can add Gloucestershire to that list.
While all that's pretty progressive in a country where the Prime Minister refuses to engage on any sort of adult level with the drugs debate, that kicker from Surl takes everything one step up. "For a PCC to acknowledge that cannabis is being used by people for medical reasons is massive," says Woods. "It's an enormous political statement. [It's] literally contradicting the law, which says there are no medical uses for the drug."
For the tens of thousands of people in the UK who use cannabis medicinally – and know with every degree of certainty that it works for them – that's got to be a good thing to hear.
"The government, and most front bench MPs, still don't seem willing to take this issue on, so it's great that police on the frontline are doing this off their own backs." says George Murkin from drug policy foundation Transform. "This trend from police forces in the UK could be a sign of more comprehensive reforms to come. In fact, privately, many police officers acknowledge that going after people who use cannabis has virtually no impact on levels of consumption and dealing."
In April of this year it was reported that there had been an almost 50 percent drop in the amount of cannabis-related arrests since 2010, prompting some to say that many other police forces are taking more lenient approaches, but just not necessarily publicising it. Of course, this isn't representative across the board: a couple of weeks ago, West Midlands Police announced a 40 percent increase in cannabis arrests.
"It's unfair, but it looks as though whether cannabis users get busted or not depends in large part on whether they live in an area with a police force that has recognised the futility of this kind of enforcement," says Murkin.
That said, Woods seems to have faith that police forces that are lagging behind will eventually make the U-turn, like he did himself during his time as a drugs detective. "I knew early on that the war on drugs was impossible to win, but I carried on doing the work because I knew that there were always nasty gangsters to catch," he says. "I was always enticed back into the work because the gangsters got nastier and nastier. But eventually, the penny dropped that the reason gangsters get worse every year is because of people like me and the police tactics we used."
Two weeks ago, Ladbrokes announced their 3/1 odds for cannabis legalisation by 2026. If the police forces around the country continue to come out in favour of a more decriminalised approach – and continue to decrease resources when it comes to tackling cannabis production and consumption – it's highly likely some form of change would have been made in ten years. However it's unpredictable how tame or drastic the policy changes would be.
A spokesperson from Release highlighted the increasing pressure on the international level: "As more police forces see cuts over the coming years because of the government's austerity package, it would be unsurprising to see more move in the direction of de-prioritising low-level drug offences What's more important is that evidence from around the world is overwhelming that this is the direction law enforcement should be moving in anyway, in relation to all substances."
Ironically, it looks like cannabis legislation in the UK could be galvanised by our police – the same people who are currently putting away cannabis users and producers. And who knows – perhaps all these police forces consecutively declaring their opinions on Home Office policy could be a political move to put pressure on the government. After all, if they were simply making internal changes in administration, there would be no need to make them so loudly.
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