British Police De-emphasizes
Ed Johnson of The Associated Press reported on July 5, 2001 that British Police
are experimenting with de-emphasizes marijuana enforcement. Britain's Misuse of Drugs Act of 1971 makes it illegal to grow, produce, possess or supply marijuana to another person. Possession carries a maximum five years imprisonment.
The police, however, face serious manpower limitations that often result
in diverting scarce police resources from fighting serious crime to
enforcing marijuana laws.
A pilot program, will last for six months, was launched in London's crime-ridden borough of Lambeth in which anyone caught with a small amount of marijuana is let off with a verbal warning, as part of an effort to free officers to tackle crack cocaine, heroin and other crimes.
Authorities insist that the program is not about leniency, but about freeing officers from paperwork so they can scarce police resources on
other priorities such as crack cocaine, heroin and street robbery. In that
past it has taken two officers several hours to process a marijuana smoker, who usually ends up paying a fine of less than $70. Officers will now spend a few minutes to confiscate the drug and give a verbal warning.
Lambeth is a hard-bitten borough plagued by violent crime, prostitution and hard drugs. Shootings are commonplace, particularly among the so-called Yardie gangs - Jamaican gangsters.
Drug dealers are a common sight on street corners, particularly in Brixton - an increasingly fashionable town in the borough despite its high crime rate and the stigma of the race riots that tore it apart in the early 1980s.
Critics acknowledge the area has a serious problem with hard crime, but
but believes that deemphasizing marijuana enforcement will compound
problems because it sends the message to drug dealers that its OK to buy,
sell, and use marijuana in this area which will increase the crime rate.
The new policy is based upon the principle that policing should be flexible.
The government insists the Lambeth plan is a police resources issue, not the first step toward legalization. Nevertheless, the move has intensified the public debate about the drug.
One in 10 British adults has used marijuana in the last 12 months, double the European average, according to the European Union Drugs Agency.
Almost half of all teens have tried marijuana - more commonly called cannabis in Britain - by the time they leave school.
The governing Labor Party treads gingerly around the issue and has avoided a debate on legalizing marijuana.
Conservative lawmaker Ann Widdecombe said the experiment is the wrong solution to the real problem - too few policemen.
In Brixton, residents are unfazed by the program. ``Cannabis is so widely accepted here, it is not going to make any difference,'' said 23-year-old carpenter Harry Joe.
Key Words: International Drug Policy