Durham’s Chief Constable recently said investigating drug addicts was a ‘waste of time’
Durham is the first force in the country to publicly admit to turning a blind eye to those that grow small amounts of the Class B drug.
Instead, the police force will focus on large-scale growers and those with ‘blatant’ disregard of the law.
About one in 15 young teenagers and adults smoked the drug in the past year.
The police force is openly ignoring the Crown Prosecution Service which rules that ‘cannabis cultivation’ carries up to 14 years behind bars.
Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg outlined the new initiative in a bid to cut costs and halt the re-offending rate.
Mr Hogg complained that the police’s scare resources had to be used efficiently and that meant a focus on “multi-million pound business of organised crime, drug dealers, and street gangs.”
‘Low-level’ offenders will now be given the chance to take part in the Checkpoint programme, which aims to “reduce the number of victims of crime by reducing re-offending”.
My position is clear – I support decriminalisation of users
He previously recommended a scheme to allow ‘consumption rooms’ for heroin addicts to take the hard drug free of prosecution.
Durham’s own Chief Constable, Mike Barton, agrees with the shift in policy after he recently said investigating drug addicts was a “waste of police time.”
The Police Commissioner insists that his policy is the “position of most police forces” across the country but they just won’t publicly admit it.
Mr Hogg said: “Cannabis use is still illegal and smoking it is still a crime, but if you are caught, you will get this opportunity to stop re-offending.
“By and large we are saying it is not the top of our list to go out and try to pick up people smoking joints on street corners but if it’s blatant or we get complaints, officers will act.
“It’s about keeping people out of the criminal justice system and reducing costs.
“My position is clear – I support decriminalisation of users and support debate around the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
“I am trying to open up a debate about drugs and drugs policy.”
‘John Holiday’, the founder of Teeside Cannabis Club, agreed with Mr Hogg’s announcement.
He said: “Mr Hogg said that County Durham would no longer be seeking out personal growers unless complaints were made to the police.
“He explained this wasn’t a free-for-all, that if you smoked a joint in front of a Durham officer you’d still get nicked.”
But Mr Hogg’s liberal attitude towards drugs has prompted a backlash from those concerned about a slippery road to decriminalization.
The police force’s own press officer even re-contacted local papers to deny Mr Hogg had effectively ‘given the green light’ for legal cannabis cultivation.
Simon Stephens of north east drugs charity Addiction said the policy move sends out the wrong message.
He said: “Cannabis is still implicated in psychosis and mental health problems so from our perspective, legal or illegal makes no difference – it can be detrimental to health just like alcohol.
Mary Brett, of the campaign group Cannabis Skunk Sense, admits many forces up and down the country are ‘unofficially’ following Mr Hogg’s policy.
She said: “It’s a dangerous message to send out to kids. Police are just issuing cautions and giving a slap on the wrist. The kids are laughing at the law; they can’t take it seriously.”
She added that the “short sharp shock of prison” is the only way drug users will learn.
Mr Hogg plans to tour the country to deliver seminars on decriminalisation to the Derbyshire, Dorset, Norfolk and other forces.
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