UK Police Are Finding Success With Decriminalization

It’s taking some time, but the United Kingdom is slowly coming around to the reality of marijuana legalization.

Earlier this year, a cross-party group of politicians, scientists, professors, and activists came together to lobby the UK government, and nag them into submission on the issue of medical cannabis.

It seems their efforts were not in vain, as earlier this month, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency finally admitted that CBD oil is medicine — a huge step forward. However, a large step backward came when the government suddenly halted all sales of CBD oil in the UK. That move was enacted in order for CBD to be regulated as a health product, aka government control.

Now, in what is arguably the most significant acknowledgement of failure in the War On Drugs, two police forces in Her Majesty’s Kingdom have stopped arresting citizens caught with Class A drugs that include crack and heroin.

In an article for Vice Magazine, it was reported that the Durham and Avon & Somerset police forces have been operating a diversion program for people caught with small amounts of any illegal drug.

The move for law enforcement is a first in a century.  From 1916 until this year the directive for police was to arrest and charge an individual for possession. Vice speculated that the recent decision by these police departments could be the first step in the decriminalization of drugs for the United Kingdom.

The diversion program allows anyone caught with drugs to choose between the traditional method of punishment; a criminal record and up to seven years in prison, or a three-and-a-half hour drug education workshop. If the workshop is successfully completed, the person will receive a letter confirming their offense has been dropped.

Police have said that 80 percent of those caught took them up on the offer to enjoy a half day workshop as opposed to a potential seven years of incarceration. Vice also reported that in their investigation, drug workers said that many of the hard drug users are less likely to choose the workshop, which is usually due to the person having a long history of arrests already, or they simply want to go back to prison.

Before starting to believe that the UK authorities have gone soft, think again. This initiative is a one-time pass. If someone is caught with a substance that’s on the naughty list twice, that person will face a criminal record and potential prison sentence.

The diversion program was created by Paul Bunt, the Drug Strategy Manager for the Avon & Somerset Police. “I wanted a process where I could deal with low-level drug offenses without getting people involved in the criminal justice system,” he said.

The Durham Police in North East England has taken a similar approach with a stronger hand for hard drug offenders. For cannabis, the police force attracted attention last year when it announced they will no longer arrest people for carrying or cultivating small amounts.

For the much harder substances such as cocaine and heroin, those caught are not subject to prosecution. Instead, the person is required to complete a four-month contract, where they can’t break the law and must attend drug awareness and community work programs. Thus far, over 95 percent of those caught have completed the program successfully.

It has been said in popular culture that the older one gets, the more they become set in their ways. When it comes to cannabis in the world’s oldest modern-day democracy, this stereotype has rung true. But as slow as it seems, the UK is changing, and for cannabis lovers, it’s slowly changing for the better.

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