(courtesy NORML Foundation, http://www.norml.org)
Possession of marijuana will no longer be an arrestable offense, Britain's Home Secretary David Blunkett announced Tuesday, in a move marking the first major relaxation of England's marijuana laws in 30 years. Under the new national policy, marijuana will be reclassified as a "Class C" or "soft" drug, putting it in the same category as anti-depressants and steroids.
"In spite of our focus on hard drugs, the majority of police time is currently spent handling cannabis offenses," Blunkett said, noting that nearly 7 out every 10 British drug arrests are pot-related. "It is time for an honest and common sense approach focusing effectively on drugs that cause the most harm. Given this background, and the very clear difference between cannabis and 'Class A' drugs [such as heroin and cocaine], I want to... reclassify cannabis from 'Class B' to 'Class C.'"
Although possession of Class C drugs technically carries a two-year maximum prison term, only offenses punishable by at least five years imprisonment are arrestable in England. Therefore, marijuana smokers will unlikely face any serious legal consequences other than a verbal warning or a court summons if they are caught will small amounts. "[Police] will still have plenty of powers to stop people, but possession of cannabis won't be one of them," a Home Office spokesman told The Guardian newspaper.
NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup praised Blunkett's decision, calling the UK's impending policy de-facto decriminalization. "By eliminating the threat of arrest and jail for responsible adult marijuana smokers, police and criminal justice resources can be focused on more serious and violent crimes," Stroup said.
England's pot-law change will not be enacted legislatively, but instead by an executive order, the BBC reported. The new law will likely take effect early next year.
This week's announcement by the Home Office is the latest in a series of drug policy reforms occurring throughout Europe. Earlier this year, governments in Belgium, Luxembourg and Portugal decriminalized the use and possession of marijuana.
In contrast, the US FBI revealed Monday that a record 734,498 Americans were arrested for marijuana violations last year.