Decriminalising the personal use of drugs such as cannabis could enable greater resources to be used to tackle organised criminal networks, a senior police officer said today.
Tim Hollis, chief constable of Humberside Police, said budget cuts had led to officers "prioritising" capabilities towards targeting high-level dealers above those caught with minor amounts of drugs for their own use, it was reported.
He told The Observer: "We would rather invest our time in getting high-level criminals before the courts, taking money off them and removing their illicit gains rather than targeting young people.
"We don't want to criminalise young people because, put bluntly, if we arrest young kids for possession of cannabis and put them before the courts we know what the outcome's going to be, so actually it's perfectly reasonable to give them words of advice or take it off them."
The chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' drugs committee, called for a debate on whether alcohol and nicotine, both lawful drugs, should be incorporated into measures to fight illegal substances.
Earlier this week, one of Britain's leading experts on cannabis proposed the idea of introducing a licence to smoke cannabis legally.
Professor Roger Pertwee said making cannabis as available as alcohol would prevent drug-related crime, and reduce the chances of people being introduced to harder narcotics.
But he cautioned that it might be necessary to prevent vulnerable individuals obtaining the drug.
A Home Office spokesman said: "There is clear evidence that cannabis is a harmful drug which can cause damage to mental health in the immediate and longer-term. Even occasional use of cannabis can be dangerous for people with diseases of the circulatory system.
"The Government does not believe decriminalisation of cannabis is the right approach. Our priorities are clear - we want to reduce drug use, crack down on drug-related crime and disorder and help addicts come off drugs for good."