Top policemen want cannabis made class B to end confusion among forces

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The Independent Online

The Government should reverse its decision to downgrade cannabis possession to end the widespread confusion over how to enforce the law, senior police officers said yesterday.

"We think it was a mistake to downgrade it to class C," said Chief Superintendent Ian Johnston, president of the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales. "It was reclassified almost by stealth under [the then Home Secretary] David Blunkett. We recognise the dangers of the drug and think it's more appropriate to see it classified as class B. Quite frankly, cannabis has ruined people's lives and it needs to find its way up the priority list of policing. The previous softer messages were a mistake."

An IoS investigation has discovered that the penalties for cannabis possession vary widely across Britain. Some forces encourage the use of warnings, while others take a zero-tolerance approach and will arrest people found with the drug.

Chief Superintendent Johnston said: "There are regional differences in policing cannabis. The messages that police forces have been receiving about cannabis have been confusing for some time and we need clarity,"

In Merseyside, where Chief Constable Bernard Hogan-Howe broke ranks earlier this year to call for cannabis to be reclassified, people found in possession of small amounts of the drug are arrested or formally cautioned.

Cleveland Police in North-east England said they did not prosecute for small amounts of cannabis.

Northern Constabulary, which covers the North of Scotland, takes a tough line, saying that they always prosecute for possession.

The superintendents' call came as police in Battersea, south London, announced a three-month crackdown on cannabis in an area just a few miles from Lambeth – a borough known for its "softly softly" approach to the drug.

Guidelines issued earlier this year by the Association of Chief Police Officers recommend the use of warnings rather than arrests.

Home Office figures show that informal cautions, which do not carry a criminal record, rocketed by 28 per cent to more than 81,000 last year. Cannabis possession offences in 2006 reached 130,406 – the highest on record.