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UK: Why barely anyone is being arrested in Tyneside for cannabis anymore - and what happens next?
Sunday 06 Jan 2019
A spike in serious crime and police funding cuts have been been linked to a gigantic drop in cannabis prosecutions on Tyneside.
Six years ago, over 2,000 people were arrested by Northumbria Police on offences related to cannabis. Last year, there were just 111.
While it is understood the force has no plans to soften its stance on drugs, analysis of exclusive figures indicates cannabis has fallen dramatically in the force's priorities.
And a top detective's admitted savage Government cuts have played a significant role in the reduction.
“We have been extremely clear about the impact significantly reduced funding has had on our resources," said Peter Bent, Detective Superintendent and Director of Northumbria Police's Intelligence and Organised Crime department.
"(These figures are) set against a backdrop of increased demand arising from higher levels of recorded crime and the complex nature of emerging crime trends such as sexual exploitation and cyber-related offences."
Between 2007 and 2011, cannabis possession offences increased each year. Since then, there's been a significant annual reduction each year - mirroring the rise of austerity.
Since 2010, Northumbria Police has suffered real-terms cuts of 25%, the biggest in Britain. Last year, the force recorded the biggest rise of violent crime in the country.
A Freedom of Information request has revealed that while significant crimes are up, there were just over a dozen people cautioned for cannabis posession.
And there's been a drop in over 95% in recent years in the number of people charged with possesion.
The reduction's been welcomed by North East cannabis campaigners, who said the "conversation is changing" around cannabis.
"Like many forces around the UK, Northumbria appear to be taking the sensible not soft approach that neighbouring forces have adopted," said a spokesperson for the Teesside Cannabis Club spokesperson.
"With such a large reduction in arrests surely that has freed up police time and money to focus on more serious investigations.
"I think it is a positive step for Northumbria Police and through introducing hard reduction and a safer drug policy through the UK I think we would see a lot more forces taking the similar route."
Neighbouring Durham Constabulary split opinion after previously revealing it would no longer target small-scale cannabis smokers and growers, although a ChronicleLive investigation found users are still being arrested.
And Durham's police and crime commissioner Ron Hogg called for a radical rethink of British drug policy in 2018.
He called for a similar system to Portugal, which decriminalised possession in 2001 and now has some of the lowest drug death rates in Europe.
However it is understood no such plans are in place for Tyneside.
And DS Bent added: "We want to make it absolutely clear that we are committed to tackling all drugs-related offences and are fully aware of the destructive nature they can have on society.
"It is also important to recognise the sale of drugs and the exploitation of vulnerable individuals through this activity can be linked to organised crime group operations.
“As a Force, we have recently had a number of successful high-profile cases where large quantities of drugs have been seized before they have reached our streets.
“If anyone is concerned about drugs being supplied in their area, I would urge them to come forward and report suspicious activity, either by visiting our website or calling the non-emergency 101 number.”
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