End Criminal Sanctions For Growing And Possessing Cannabis, British Study Says

Possessing and cultivating personal use amounts of cannabis should no longer be a criminal offense, according to the recommendations of a six-year study released last week by a coalition of leading British drug policy experts, treatment specialists, and law enforcement.

The study, commissioned by the UK Drug Policy Commission, argues that decriminalizing minor cannabis offenses will reduce police and prosecutorial costs without adversely impacting levels of illicit drug use. The UK Drug Policy Commission is an independent charity “that provides objective analysis of the evidence concerning drug policies and practice.”

According to the study, criminal penalties for cannabis “could be replaced with simple civil penalties, such as a fine, perhaps a referral to a drug awareness session run by a public health body, or if there was a demonstrable need, to a drug treatment program. … These changes could potentially result in less demand on police and criminal justice time and resources. Given the experience of other countries, our assessment is that we do not believe this would materially alter the levels of use, while allowing resources to be spent on more cost-effective measures to reduce harm associated with drug use. … We would expect the net effect to be positive.”

Although the study’s authors do not recommend the removal of “criminal penalties for the major production or supply offenses of most [illicit] drugs,” they acknowledge that such non-criminal approaches ought to be considered for cannabis, concluding: “[F]or the most ubiquitous drug, cannabis, it is worth considering whether there are alternative approaches which might be more effective at reducing harm. For example, there is an argument that amending the law relating to the growing of it, at least for personal use, might go some way to undermining the commercialization of production, with associated involvement of organized crime. … Perhaps the most expedient course to take here would be to re-examine sentence levels and sentencing practice to ensure that those growing below a certain low volume of plants face no – or only minimal – sanctions.”

The Drug Policy Commission’s final report is the first major, independent review of British drug policy since a 1999 report commissioned by the Police Foundation, which similarly recommended decriminalizing cannabis. Following the publication of that report, British lawmakers in 2004 temporarily downgraded cannabis from a Class B to a Class C ‘soft’ drug. Lawmakers reclassified cannabis as a Class B illicit substance in early 2009. Nevertheless, British police typically issue warnings to minor cannabis offenders in lieu of making criminal arrests.

Full text of the UK Drug Policy Commission’s final report is available online here.

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