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18/02/2008 00:00:00

UK: Cannabis users to face fixed penalty

Tens of thousands of people caught with a single joint of cannabis will
get an unofficial criminal record that could blight their future
employment prospects under new police proposals, The Daily Telegraph can

The new powers are likely to form part of a summer crackdown on the drug
amid concerns about the spiralling mental health toll from
super-strength "skunk" cannabis, which now accounts for 80 per cent of
the UK market.

Police want tougher powers to be brought in regardless of whether
ministers decide to return cannabis to Class B status later this year
after a group of advisers on drugs make their recommendations.

Only a fraction of the estimated three million regular cannabis smokers
in Britain are punished.

Figures for the Metropolitan Police show that between April 2005 and
January 2006, 24,916 people in London were accused of cannabis
possession. But nearly seven in 10 were let off with a formal warning.

Typically, no record is kept of the offence because it is defined in law
as a civil penalty with no evidence presented in court.

Yet senior police officers have told The Daily Telegraph they want to
treat those being caught with cannabis as seriously as speeding, where a
pattern of repeat offending eventually leads to a driving ban.

Under the new plans, people caught in possession of cannabis will be
fined and issued with a fixed penalty notice, which are routinely
recorded on the Police National Computer.

This would allow police to keep track of repeat offenders and take
further action if necessary. The penalty notices would also be disclosed
to some potential employers, with the agreement of the particular
force's chief constable.

It would not affect anyone's ability to enter countries such as America
which can ban travellers with a record of drug offences.

However, officers are also discussing a third option with Home Office
lawyers that would see repeat low level possession punished with a
criminal conviction and a criminal record.

Simon Byrne, an assistant chief constable and the national lead on
policing cannabis for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said
sanctions against cannabis possession were not strong enough.

He said: "You can drive a car along the road with no seat belt and get a
fixed penalty notice. Or you can use your phone and get points on your
licence and an £80 fine.

"But you can walk the streets in possession of an illegal drug and
technically you get your wrist slapped."

Mr Byrne, who is Assistant Chief Constable of Merseyside Police, said
the new notices would be disclosable to some employers when they were
carrying out background checks on potential recruits.

He added: "The sanction could simply be a financial one or it could be a
financial one plus a criminal record which obviously then has an impact
on your future life if you are trying to go for certain types of job."

The plans are likely to be put to Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, by
the end of the spring. They are not contingent on the reclassification
of cannabis from Class C to Class B status.

The new powers would allow police to send a message on cannabis
possession, Mr Byrne said.

He added: "It is about different forms of sanction within the criminal
justice system sending out the message that rather than have your wrist
slapped you are going to get a penalty."

A Home Office spokesman said: "The Home Office has not yet received any
proposals on this matter from ACPO. The Government will give them
careful consideration once received."

LCA FORUM invites YOU:

Author: The Telegraph via UKCIA

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