Summer 2015, most major newspapers reported that the County Durham police will no longer prosecute crimes relating to low-level possession or sale of cannabis. The county’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Ron Hogg, instituted this new policy and effectively decriminalised cannabis.
A year and a half later, how’s that working out?
No-one seems to know or care.
SOUTH EAST ESSEX NEWS approached the County Durham constabulary and asked: has the relaxation of cannabis laws been good or bad for County Durham?
How much money was previously spent enforcing Prohibition, and has refusing to enforce it freed up police resources, in this age of Austerity, in specific, quantifiable ways? Have any consequences been noted in areas such as public health, mental health, the use of harder drugs, police morale, community relations? Has there been any rise or decline in other recorded crimes?
Speaking to SOUTH EAST ESSEX NEWS by phone, the Head of Policy & Communications at County Durham Police seemed happy with this experiment in decriminalisation, and optimistic that it will continue. He admitted however that he could not answer any of our questions: he did not have the relevant statistics.
This was confirmed in a subsequent email from PCC Hogg, who told us: “Much of the information that you request is not available.”
The Police & Crime Commissioner’s words were echoed by County Durham Council. Regarding their county’s year-and-a-half-long policy, a spokesperson told us: “We have received no analysis, and have not completed an analysis ourselves.”
Nor could any individual councillor offer much. Of one hundred and twenty-five county councillors, a number replied to our enquiries but none had any facts or figures.
Two councillors expressed opposition to the policy. One said he “feels” that cannabis was a factor in the suicide of a relative, although he admitted there were no indications that the suicide-rate has risen in County Durham over the last year. Another claimed that “druggies” progress from cannabis to harder substances, and that cannabis use is a “trigger” for other offences. He was also unable to demonstrate any way in which these problems have worsened in County Durham following the shift in the police’s priorities.
Similarly, the relevant agencies were unable to say whether incidences and severity of mental illnesses are rising or falling or stable across County Durham.
PCC Ron Hogg can at least brag that no-one seems able to point to any failings of his policy. But the next time the County Durham Constabulary initiate a radical and very useful experiment, perhaps someone could take notes.
SEENSOUTH EAST ESSEX NEWS
NEWS FROM THE NORTH EAST:
COUNTY DURHAM DECRIMINALISED CANNABIS AND NOTHING BAD SEEMS TO HAVE HAPPENED
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