The Metropolitan Police's six-month experiment with not arresting cannabis users in the south London borough of Lambeth was due to end on December 31, but will be extended after an interim Scotland Yard study indicated the program was "a complete success," the Guardian newspaper reported last Saturday. The experimental program, in which cannabis users are not arrested but merely "cautioned" and their stashes confiscated, will continue pending the issuance of a Police Foundation review due in February, the newspaper reported.
According to the Guardian, the move is "a sure sign" that Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens wants to expand the program to all of London. Stevens has called the no-arrest scheme "sensible and progressive," the paper reported.
The Guardian also noted that the move would encourage Home Secretary David Blunkett to move forward with his announced plan to reschedule cannabis from Class B to Class C, a category reserved for the least dangerous drugs, such as steroids and anti-depressants. Under British law, police cannot arrest people for simple possession of Class C drugs. The Metropolitan Police support that move, wrote the Guardian.
Blunkett is awaiting a report from a parliamentary advisory panel on drug abuse, which will look into the health consequences of cannabis decriminalization. That report is due early this year, and a favorable conclusion could lead to effective decriminalization of cannabis possession throughout Britain as early as March, the newspaper reported.
But even if the law were to change, Britain would not become a safe haven for marijuana users. Police could (and presumably would) continue to "caution" pot-smokers, taking down their names and addresses and seizing their stashes. They have certainly done so in Lambeth, issuing warnings to 381 people between July 2 and November 30, according to police figures. In the same period last year, police in Lambeth arrested 278 people for cannabis possession. In the case of Lambeth, then, the relaxation of enforcement has actually led to an increased number of people harassed by police for cannabis violations.
"Without the full evaluation, it would be wrong to read too much into the figures," a Metropolitan Police spokesman told the Guardian, "but they do show that officers in Lambeth are using the scheme. The number of warnings is higher than the number of arrests, which shows that our officers are not ignoring cannabis possession," he said.