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Durham Police to go after cannabis users and growers only if their actions are 'blatant'

The new policy aims to decriminalise users of cannabis Photo: Press Association

In a meeting with pro-cannabis activists, Durham's Police and Crime Commissioner 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 other serious 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 the force's Checkpoint programme - an initiative aimed at eradicating low level offending by encouraging offenders to tackle the root causes of their behaviour.

Cannabis users who have committed less than three crimes are eligible for the 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 to de-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.

By and large we are saying it is not the top of our list to go out and try to pick up people smoking joints on street corners but if it’s blatant or we get complaints, officers will act.

It's about keeping people out of the criminal justice system and reducing costs, it's about being more productive with the way we approach things.

It's also about seeking to prevent future use by keeping people out of prison.

My position is clear – I support decriminalisation of users and support debate around the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

What we're trying to do now is push forward for national debate on drugs policy – it's quite clear that what has been done for 40 years is not working and we need a different approach.

– 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 who are 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 health problems so from our perspective, legal or illegal makes no difference – it can be detrimental to health just like alcohol."