First time users of cocaine and cannabis will be offered education or drug treatment under new plans that have been put forward by police chiefs.
The plans suggest that officers should take no action against people who are caught in possession of illegal substances – including the higher class A and B drugs – which would mean that they would avoid a criminal record.
Instead, the organisations suggest that the offenders should be offered education and treatment programmes.
However, failure to participate in those programmes or getting caught in possession of drugs would then result in prosecution.
As it stands, 14 of the 43 police forces across England and Wales operate a system like this one, but this new idea would be the first time a consistent approach across the entire nation has been tried.
Officers should be allowed to report that ‘no further action’ be taken ‘if action to prevent reoffending or change behaviour by addressing the root cause of the offending’ was shown, according to the proposal.
So, no criminal records for first time offenders and no need to plead guilty to charges.
Currently, Portugal operates a system similar to this and has been lauded for a pro-active and progressive approach to drugs policing.
However, the government has suggested a ‘three strikes and out’ policy on recreational drug use, which is quite different to what is being suggested here.
In a white paper entitled Swift, Certain, Tough: New Consequences for Drug Possession, the government has suggested that those using drugs recreationally be banned from travelling abroad, electronically tagged, or disqualified from driving.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman told the Tory conference in September that cannabis had essentially been decriminalised, leading to claims that she wanted to make it a class A substance.
However, the government dismissed those rumours, stating that there are no plans to change drug classifications.
In an open letter to the government, 500 representatives of public health and drugs organisations said that they had ‘serious concerns’ about where the government was planning to go with their drug policy, which they claim would criminalise young vulnerable people.
That letter instead encouraged Rishi Sunak’s government to direct resources to ‘health interventions’ that are ‘proven to reduce harms’ instead of criminal prosecutions.
Jason Harwin, the ex-lead on drugs for the NPCC and a former deputy chief constable, told The Telegraph: “We should not criminalise someone for possession of drugs.
“It should be diversion to other services to give them a chance to change their behaviours.”
He also said that the new plans drawn up by the government were ‘too rigid’ and made punishment for drug users stronger than those for robbers.
Dr Adam Holland, chairman for the Faculty of Public Health, said: “Drug diversion schemes are a promising route to avoid criminalising people who use drugs.