Yesterday’s BBC Breakfast report on cannabis decriminalisation and policing should have received much more attention than it did. Alas, I am frequently puzzled by the lack of attention paid towards the backdoor legalisation of cannabis possession in England. It’s a topic that most have an opinion on, but so very few bother to look at what is really going on up and down the country.
In the feature (to which I have linked at the bottom of this post), Durham Constabulary’s Chief Constable Mike Barton explains why his colleagues have given up arresting for possession of cannabis in their jurisdiction, explaining that it is ‘a logical move towards tackling the issues which are most harmful to the public’. Mr Barton, apparently, hasn’t been adequately informed about the potential consequences of mind-altering drug taking, nor about the concept of deterrence .
The danger here, is that if police forces actively withdraw and deterrent is quashed, young people will be sent the message that smoking narcotics like cannabis (which, in many cases, can lead to experimentation of more drugs, or to irreparable damage to the individual’s mental health) is a risk-free and actively encouraged endeavour. It isn’t, and shouldn’t be.
Barton then goes on to refer to dealing, reminding viewers that “We’ve always made it clear: we have zero tolerance when it comes to drug dealing”. Well, why, exactly? If no effort is made to suppress demand, then a battle against the dealers is going to be one which is made yet harder to win. The Chief Constable’s comments act as yet more evidence that there is no war against drugs in Britain, or that if there is, it’s being fought with such incompetence that authorities may as well lie down and surrender.
This, as well as some intriguing statistics provided by the BBC’s damning report, will come as welcome news for Britain’s cannabis brigade, which as the Home Office notes, is now around 7% of the population including 15% of 15-24 year olds. Since 2010, arrests are down by 46%, cautions are down by 48% and charges have also decreased by a third.
There are, however, two other things which I found most interesting about this video package. The first is the Chief Constable’s excuse that avoiding arrests is a good way to “free up” police officers so that they can deal with more important issues, like (I presume) offensive comments on Twitter or sitting ten to a van in the middle of city centres. Why do these people constantly use the phrase ‘free up’? A battle against drug use is no small feat, and nor is it a problem of small significance, and shouldn’t be treated as such by leading figures within police forces.
The second, equally noteworthy point about all of this is a more philosophical one. I am personally very disturbed by the fact that police councils and chiefs have the power to overturn national law and implement their own artificial penal codes. The job of a police officer is to uphold the law, not to make up unique rules or punishment quotas. If we allow police this much freedom with cannabis, it’s hard not to imagine a situation where police-invented punishments are used right across the board.
How long before we see burglary warnings, or assault warnings, perhaps? The journalist in the report asked one very clear question in the middle of the report, asking viewers rhetorically: “If, as these figures would suggest, other police forces are also choosing not to target those who are carrying out an illegal act, then what is the point in that act being illegal?”
He’s right. We are stuck in no mans land on drugs, and a clear choice needs to be made. Do we get hard on drugs and strive to deter those thinking about taking a potentially harmful drug, or do we turn the state into a drug dealer and permit recreational use…for good?
The report can be watched in full, below: