In a meeting with pro-cannabis activists, Durham's Police and CrimeCommissioner Ron Hogg confirmed that Durham Constabulary will only go after users if a complaint is made or their actions are "blatant".

The force will continue to tackle large-scale cannabis farms and otherserious issues relating to the drug but it will offer anybody caught possessing or growing small amounts of the drug the opportunity to avoid criminal prosecution altogether.

Instead, those arrested will be offered the opportunity to engage with theforce's Checkpoint programme - an initiative aimed at eradicating lowlevel offending by encouraging offenders to tackle the root causes of theirbehaviour.

Cannabis users who have committed less than three crimes are eligible forthe intensive programme but would be prosecuted if they failed to comply with its rules.

Mr Hogg, a former policeman, said the measures were part of a move tode-criminalise users - not the drug itself.

Cannabis use is still illegal and smoking it is still a crime, but if you are caught you will get this opportunity to stop re-offending.

Ron Hogg, Durham Police and Crime Commissioner

John Holiday of the Teesside Cannabis Club said the move would allow police to focus their efforts on organised and commercial cannabis production.

He said: "None of us like to think of the trafficked Vietnamese kids whoare slaved out to tend houses full of weed and we need to come together as a community to crack down on criminal enterprises of this nature."

However, Simon Stephens of North-East drugs charity Addiction said the move towards decriminalisation was irrelevant from a health perspective.

He said: "Cannabis is still implicated in psychosis and mental healthproblems so from our perspective, legal or illegal makes no difference – it can be detrimental to health just like alcohol."