First-time drug users will not be prosecuted under the police chiefs’ plan

First-time users of cocaine and cannabis will avoid prosecution under a national plan being drawn up by police chiefs to treat it as a public health problem.

People caught in possession of illegal drugs, including Class A and B, for the first time would no longer be prosecuted, but would instead be offered the opportunity to undergo education or treatment programs.

The police would take no further action if they agreed, and the drug user would avoid a criminal record according to the proposals drawn up by the National Police Council and the police academy.

However, the individual may be prosecuted if they did not undergo education or treatment and were caught with drugs again.

Fourteen of the 43 police forces in England and Wales including the West Midlands, Thames Valley and Durham, ranked as one of the most successful in the UK, already operate similar schemes, but the new initiative aims to establish a nationally consistent approach.

The move could put police and public health chiefs on a collision course with the government, which has proposed a tough new “three strikes and out” approach to recreational drug use that could see users banned from overseas travel, disqualified from driving or electronic drugs labeled for quit their habit.

Fall in drug offenders charged

Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, signaled a hard line at the Tory conference, warning that cannabis use had effectively been decriminalized in parts of the country. The proportion charged with drug offenses has fallen from 33.3 per cent in 2015 to 19.3 per cent in the year to June 2022.

However, in an open letter to the government, revealed on Sunday, 500 public health and drugs organizations and experts express “serious concerns” over ministers’ plans which they say will criminalize young and vulnerable people and divert valuable police resources from tackling the root of the problem.

The 500 including the Association of Directors of Public Health, the Public Health Faculty, the Police Foundation and the British Medical Association are urging ministers to target limited resources on “health interventions that have been shown to reduce harm”, such as the police force’s 14 drug diversion schemes.

The letter is coordinated by the health campaign groups Release and Transform and follows findings from the police schemes that only five to 20 per cent of those who participated have repeated offences.

Jason Harwin, the former NPCC head of drugs and a former deputy constable, who is working with the College of Policing on the new strategy, said: “We should not be criminalizing anyone for drug possession. There should be diversion to other services to give them a chance to change their behaviour.”

He said Britain should adopt schemes similar to those in countries such as Portugal, which directed those caught with small amounts of drugs into education or treatment programmes.

Under the plan, police would use a “catch 22” for first-time offenders, where an officer would record “no further action” if there had been “action to prevent reoffending or change behavior by addressing the root cause of the offense.” It would not require an admission of guilt, nor leave a criminal record.

The police can bring charges for subsequent offences

Mr Harwin said a police officer could prosecute the person for any subsequent offense or if they failed to address their behavior in an education programme, but he believed there should be room for flexibility depending on individual circumstances. It will cover both class A (cocaine) and class B drugs (cannabis).

He believed the government’s proposals were “too rigid” in that a first-time offender caught the next day could end up being prosecuted under the plans while penalties such as confiscating a passport were tougher than those given for robbery.

Prof David Strain, chair of the BMA board of science, said the government’s plans appeared to “double down on a failed model by promoting ever-tightening sanctions that perpetuate the stigma and shame that already act as a barrier to individuals seeking help, and ultimately discourage drug users from seeking the health care they need.”

Dr Adam Holland, Chair of the Faculty of Public Health’s Special Interest Group on Drugs, said: “Drug diversion schemes are a promising way to avoid criminalizing people who use drugs. Instead of arresting, prosecuting or formally charging those caught in possession of drugs, they are instead diverted from the criminal justice system to receive targeted education and support.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “Drugs destroy lives and destroy communities, which is why the Government is committed to tackling both the supply and demand for drugs, as set out in the 10-year Drugs Strategy.

“Our White Paper on new tougher penalties for drug possession contains proposals to tackle demand and we have welcomed views on this. We will publish our response in due course.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *