Mike Barton, chief constable of Durham police force, has backed William Hague’s call to legalise cannabis and backed the right to grow, saying that people growing a couple of plants for personal use would not be subject to raids in his jurisdiction.
Barton said his experience of trying to enforce prohibition had led him to conclude it was damaging public safety, not protecting it. “Yes, it should be legal. That’s what I think based on my experience,” he said.
“When I joined the police in Blackpool 38 years ago there was one drug squad detective; now everybody is on it. I’ve seen a remarkable deterioration in drugs in society over the last 38 years. What we are doing is not working.
“The status quo is not tenable. It’s getting worse. Drugs are getting cheaper, stronger, more readily available and more dangerous. I have come reluctantly over the years to the conclusion that we need to regulate the market. If you can regulate the market you can make sure it’s old-fashioned cannabis – not skunk or spice.”
Barton said the moral argument used against cannabis, that legalisation would be seen as a signal encouraging people to take it up, was bogus. He said: “If someone is an adult and makes a choice to do something that does not harm anyone else, who are we to judge? People have already made that judgment – a third of people have tried it.
“The people who think cannabis should be prohibited have secured the high ground on their moral position. But if it is a plant which is freely available and a third of people have decided they want to take it, the prohibition argument has lost its efficacy. Prohibition does not work. We are creating a latter-day mafia in the UK.
“Organised crime is buying land and property to launder their money. That money could be paying for the care of the elderly, education, rehabilitation of drug addicts,” he said.
Barton said in his area of Durham his officers would no longer apply to magistrates for a search warrant to raid the premises of small-time cannabis growers and those caught using for personal use will be offered a place in a rehabilitation programme called Checkpoint.
Barton said: “We will not apply for search warrants for one or two plants. We want to harness our energies and focus on industrial-scale drug dealers who are damaging society.
“If you have a small amount for personal use you will not be prosecuted, you go into Checkpoint. It frees up time to investigate more serious crime – that’s why we have a good detection rate.”
Commenting, John Holiday from Teeside UKCSC said: “Mike Barton has always been a progressive thinker and the policy implemented in Durham has shown this, rated the UK’s only outstanding force on a number of occasions. Through Mike Barton’s Leadership and with the support of Durham Police Crime commissioner Ronald Hogg not only has Durham seen the benefits of their pioneering approach, but without their support for our club in a neighbouring county we would not be the Teesside Cannabis Club you know today.
“With more and more Police forces coming out publicly or privately in support of reform, I think it’s important to remember the two individuals who started a snowball rolling five years ago. Teesside Cannabis Club’s consumption rooms are a direct result of two officers who chose to stand up for patients and consumers with a ‘sensible not soft approach’.
“in almost five years operating as a club we have had no complaints or issues, largely due to Ron and Mike’s outspoken views on drug reform. The community as a whole has started to get there faces out there and the stigma that was once attached is no longer. Our members come from all walks of life; 95% are professional people, the community does not just consist of these people we see on social media calling themselves canna-Community but real life normal individuals that want the right to consume safe regulated cannabis products in a safe environment. Mike and Ron have given over 180 members the ability to leave the social stigma behind.”