Sadiq Khan ‘plans to end prosecution of young people caught with cannabis’

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The scheme will initially be trialled in three south London boroughs: Lewisham, Bexley and Greenwich   (PA)
The scheme will initially be trialled in three south London boroughs: Lewisham, Bexley and Greenwich (PA)

Sadiq Khan will reportedly introduce plans to end the prosecution of young people found with cannabis in London.

The pilot scheme, first reported by The Telegraph, will see speeding course-style classes or counselling offered instead of arrest to under-25s caught with cannabis.

Through the initiative, police officers will be told not to arrest young people caught with cannabis, but carrying the drug will still remain illegal. Alternatively, offenders will be taken back to their family homes and kept from police custody.

The boroughs of Lewisham, Bexley and Greenwich will be the first to be subject to the new rules of the pilot scheme.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “This limited trial, which is still in development and has yet to be approved by City Hall, would involve three of London’s 32 boroughs and would only apply to 18-24-year-olds found in possession of a small amount of cannabis. It would not apply to any other drug.

“The idea of the scheme, which is already used by other police forces across the country, would be to divert young people who are found with a small amount of cannabis away from the criminal justice system and instead provide help and support. This has been shown to reduce reoffending.

“Reducing crime is the Mayor’s top priority and he will continue to explore and implement the most effective solutions to help to divert young people away from drug use and crime for good.”

The plans come a month after the government revealed its tough 10-year drugs strategy which could see users losing their passports or driving licences if caught with Class A narcotics such as cocaine.

With the new strategy, the government aims to target “lifestyle users” who they argue are helping fund crime.

“What we’re also saying is we’re not going to sit idly by when you have lifestyle users also using Class A drugs, and we’re going to be coming down tougher on them,” Boris Johnson said last month.

“We are looking at doing things to tackle those so-called lifestyle drug users who don’t think they are part of the problem. In the end, all the demand is helping to create the problem.

“The 300,000 problem drugs users, you’ve got to deal with what is going on there, you’ve got to make sure they are given rehab, you’ve got to come down tough on the county lines gangs, but you’ve also got to think about what is happening with the demand, the economic advantage that is given to the gangs by the lifestyle users as well.”

Mr Khan’s plans may also face opposition from Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer who has previously said he is not in favour of decriminalising drugs in England.

When asked about the Mayor of London’s scheme by The Telegraph, he said: “On the drugs legislation, I’ve said a number of times and I will say again, I’m not in favour of us changing the law or decriminalisation. I’m very clear about that.

“I haven’t seen the detail of the proposals that you’ve reported on. As I understand it they are early measures, they are some sort of pilot.

“Obviously we’ll look at those, but I’m very clear that we’re not in favour of changing the drugs laws.”

Mr Johnson’s spokesman reportedly agreed with Sir Keir about Mr Khan’s reported drugs plan, saying: “Decriminalisation would leave organised criminals in control while risking an increase in drug use, which drives a climate of violence.”

The pilot is reported to be announced later this month and will be spearhead by Damien Egan, the mayor of Lewisham.

A Lewisham commissioned consultancy report into the negative impacts of low-level drug offences provided the basis for the scheme, after which the borough approached the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) to request support for the pilot.

While MOPAC remains actively involved in discussions around the scheme, funding for the pilot is yet to receive final approval.

Lord Brian Paddick, former Police Commander for the London Borough of Lambeth, introduced a similar scheme in July 2001.

He instructed police officers in the borough to not arrest or charge people found with cannabis so that they could “concentrate on the offences that people were really concerned about”.

Speaking to LBC presenter Nick Ferrari on Tuesday morning, however, Lord Paddick said he has “a few issues” with Mr Khan’s reported plans.

“Allegedly it’s supposed to save police time,” he said. “But if you’re a 24-year-old, taking you back to your home address, what does that mean?

“Maybe mum and dad won’t be pleased to see you or you might not even be living with your parents. So, I’m not quite sure how this is supposed to work.”

He continued: “What we saw with cannabis maybe a decade ago when the government made it a more serious offence…it made no difference at all in terms of use.

“But when stories appeared in the press that very strong genetically modified forms of cannabis could trigger schizophrenia in people who had a propensity to become schizophrenic, and excessive use of cannabis could damage your mental health, then cannabis [use] dropped.

“That shows that education is the way forward and not criminalisation.”

During the last mayoral election, Mr Khan pledged to set up a London Drugs Commission to review the effectiveness of the UK’s drug laws, with a particular focus on cannabis.

Through a process known as “diversion”, young people instead will be offered a course to educate them on the dangers of drug use, similar to that offered to motorists who have been caught speeding.

Youth workers will lead the rehabilitation process and under-25s will be offered counselling if necessary.

Similar schemes have previously been trialled by police and crime commissioners in Somerset, Durham, and in the West Midlands.

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