London Mayor Plans Cannabis Diversion Scheme to Address Disproportionate Criminalisation of Young People

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The pilot programme in London would divert young people, found with small amounts of cannabis, away from the criminal justice system.

The London Mayor is working on a new diversion scheme devised to end the prosecution of young people caught with small amounts of cannabis, The Guardian reports. The plan is based on a successful model from Thames Valley police.

Instead of facing arrest and prosecution, under 25s caught in possession of small quantities of cannabis will be offered drug awareness classes or counselling. Educational courses informing on the potential dangers of drug use would be run by youth workers, rather than police officers, with counselling accessible to those in need of it.

Initial reports claimed that the pilot scheme would be trialled in the boroughs of Lewisham, Bexley and Greenwich.

However, Khan’s office has said these plans are still in development and the pilot must receive approval from the City Hall before it comes into effect. Further, that the Mayor does not hold the power to change, to decriminalise or alter the legal status of illegal substances, which is a governmental responsibility.

A spokesman clarified that the trial would only apply to 18- to 24-year-olds found in possession of a small amount of cannabis and would not apply to any other drug.

Khan will receive recommendations from City Hall, the government, the criminal justice system, and the NHS and treatment services.

How could the pilot programme reduce harm?

The new strategy is based on research seen by the Mayor of London’s team indicating that police are spending large amounts of time and resources dealing with drug crime. Between 2016 and 2020, 90% of drug prosecutions against young people were cannabis-related.

The illegal drug trade in the UK costs society an estimated £19bn per year, according to the Mayor’s office. During his last election campaign, Mr Khan pledged to establish the London Drugs Commission to review the feasibility of decriminalising cannabis.

The decriminalisation of cannabis is part of a wider global trend exhibiting a more relaxed approach to the use of illegal substances. By reducing punitive measures and increasing access to rehabilitative treatment, countries such as Portugal acknowledge the detrimental effects of legal action and strive to reduce the overall harms caused by drug use.

Drug diversions schemes – such as the one suggested by Sadiq Khan – have been shown to effectively reduce reoffending by diverting vulnerable young people away from the criminal justice system, providing them with help and support instead. The pilot is also designed to tackle the disproportionate arrest rates of BAME individuals.

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