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UK - Policing guidance following reclassification of Cannabis (UK)

Discussion in 'Drug Policy Reform & Narco Politics' started by Lunar Loops, Jan 22, 2007.

  1. Lunar Loops

    Lunar Loops Driftwood Platinum Member & Advisor

    Reputation Points:
    Feb 10, 2006
    from ireland
    This is from the Association of Chief Police officers website and offers advice to police officers on dealing with cannabis offences. SWIS is not really sure whether this offers up anything new as it is still basically saying that how the matter is dealt with is down to the discretion of the officer involved. This has always been so, even before the re-classification. UK tokers should therefore note that they can still be arrested and charged even if found in posession of a small amount of cannabis (luck of the draw....if you'll excuse the pun...based on locality and how the officer is feeling at the time). Anyway, here are the guidelines in full for those that may be interested:

    Press Release

    Reference: 18/07 Date: January 16, 2007
    Policing guidance following reclassification of Cannabis

    An ACPO spokesperson said:
    “Following the Government's reclassification of Cannabis from Class B to Class C in January 2004, ACPO worked with forces and other interested groups to produce guidelines for how the police should deal with simple cannabis possession which involved warning offenders in most instances rather than arresting.
    “Since then, The Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 made changes to police powers of arrest and as a result ACPO have now revised the original guidelines, following consultation with forces and other interested groups.
    “In putting together the guidance ACPO recognised that different communities had different crime problems and therefore left provision for local police commanders to arrest rather than issue a cannabis warning, if this was a proportionate response within their community. The guidance also recognises the particular vulnerability of young people and has indicated that they should continue to be arrested rather than warned on the street.”


    1.1 Possession of Cannabis is illegal. Offenders can be arrested for possession of Cannabis if necessary. Cannabis is classified as a Class C Drug under The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

    1.2 Dealing in any amount of Cannabis is a serious offence that can result in up to 14 years imprisonment. A Cannabis Warning should not be considered where there is evidence of dealing or possession with intent to supply the cannabis to others.

    1.3 On 19 January 2006, The Home Secretary, having taken advice from The Advisory Counsel on The Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), decided to keep Cannabis as a Class C Drug. The purpose of these guidelines is to issue renewed guidance to officers dealing with offences of possession of cannabis in light of this decision and significant legislative change since the guidelines were first introduced in January 2003.

    1.4 These updated guidelines have been developed, following extensive consultation, to recommend to Chief Constables a consistent national approach to the policing of possession of Cannabis as a Class C Drug.


    2.1 Since the 2004 guidelines introduced the concept of ‘Street Warnings’ for cannabis possession, there has been some confusion over the terminology and relationships with other forms of warning, such as the formal warning or formal cautioning procedure or final warnings for young people. During extensive consultation it was felt that the previous terminology was ambiguous and some officers interpreted it as being a warning that could only be given on the street, whereas, in reality, it can be given anywhere. In view of this and to avoid further misunderstanding ACPO have decided to refer to the process in future as a ‘Cannabis Warning’.


    3.1 The term ‘Cannabis Warning’ should replace the term ‘Street Warning’. It is expected that individual police forces will review current Standard Operating Procedures in light of these amended guidelines.

    3.2 As a general guide, when police find a person in possession of a small amount of cannabis, they should ;

    • investigate the circumstances surrounding the alleged possession, including any lawful excuse.

    • eliminate any suspicion of a more serious offence, such as possession with intent to supply. (The amount of cannabis in possession of the offender is irrelevant if there is other evidence of intent to supply).

    • seize cannabis and secure evidence according to local procedure. There must be compliance with PACE and its Codes. If the officer is not experienced in handling cannabis or has any doubt as to the nature of the substance they should call for the assistance of an officer who has the relevant experience

    • complete contemporaneous notes of the incident, that are PACE compliant and cover the points to prove for the offence, in line with local procedures

    • complete local recording systems, such as stop/search forms, property seized logs and criminal intelligence reports

    • ensure a record is made of the crime within local crime recording procedures. Under Home Office counting rules this will be treated as a sanctioned detection, providing the correct procedures have been followed.

    3.3 If an offender admits possession, and there is no evidence of intent to supply to others, the officer should consider whether dealing with the offender by way of a Cannabis Warning would be a proportionate and appropriate method of disposal. If the officer decides to proceed with a cannabis warning the offender should be warned that:

    • A record of the investigation will be made at the police station

    • The offence of possession will be recorded against them, for statistical purposes, as a detected crime

    • However, this procedure does not constitute a criminal record against them

    4 ARREST

    4.1 From 1 January 2006, Section 24 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) as amended by section 110 of the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCAP), provides a constable with the power of arrest for an offence. The exercise of this power requires the officer to apply the necessity criteria set out in PACE Code G and show that arrest is necessary. The application of the ‘trigger powers’ under PACE following arrest (e.g. entry and search of premises after arrest) apply only to indictable offences. Possession of Cannabis under Section 5(2) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is an indictable offence.

    4.2 A police officer finding a person aged 18 or over in possession of a substance that they can identify as cannabis and who is satisfied that the drug is intended for that person's own use should not normally need to arrest the person.

    4.3 Young People aged 10 to 17 years of age cannot be given a Cannabis Warning. They must be dealt with under the provisions of Section 65 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. It is accepted that, in some cases, a police officer may find it necessary to arrest that person in order to obtain the admission/evidence required. However, consideration should be given to less intrusive means if possible such as taking the young person home, verifying their name and address and referring the case for a disposal decision. The necessity test is explained below and the officer must justify any decision to arrest based on individual circumstances.

    4.4 When might an arrest be necessary?

    4.4.1 PACE Code of Practice G provides statutory guidance on arrest powers. An arrest must never be used simply because it can be used. The use of the power must be shown to be necessary. Officers exercising the power should consider whether the intended objectives can be met by other, less intrusive means, such as summons, or by using street bail following arrest rather than taking the suspect to the police station. The reasons for any arrest must be recorded in accordance with PACE Code G, section 4. The following examples demonstrate cases where the necessity criteria may prompt an officer to consider arresting the suspect. The circumstances that may satisfy those criteria, however, remain a matter for the operational discretion of individual officers. Some examples are given below of what those circumstances might be.

    4.4.2 An arrest would not be necessary if the officer simply wished to seize cannabis and has no intention to prosecute the person. In these cases stop and search powers under s23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 enable the police to stop and search a person suspected of possessing controlled drugs. The officer can stop and search the suspect without making an arrest, and seize any controlled drugs that are found during the search. PACE Code of Practice A and the Stop and Search manual provide statutory guidance on the use of stop and search powers.

    4.4.3 An arrest may be necessary where

    • The name and/or address of the suspect are not known or there are reasonable grounds for doubting whether a name given is a real name.

    For example:

     The officer wishes to caution / warn / summons the suspect for the offence

    • It is necessary to prevent the offender suffering physical injury or causing injury to someone else.

    For example:

     a person is so intoxicated they are in need of protection or incapable of understanding the warning procedure

     the person is a juvenile and arrest is necessary to reduce the harm or risks faced by that individual if intervention is not taken.

     the person is vulnerable because of their mental health and arrest is necessary to reduce the harm or risks if intervention is not taken

     A person is smoking cannabis in the company or vicinity of other people and arrest is necessary to reduce the harm or risks faced by any individual if intervention is not taken.

     a locality has been identified through the National Intelligence Model as one where there is fear of public disorder associated with the use of cannabis which cannot be effectively dealt with by other means, such as where an open drugs (cannabis) market causes harm to communities.

    • It is necessary to protect a child or vulnerable person from the offender

    For example

     A person is smoking cannabis in the company or vicinity of young or vulnerable people and arrest is necessary to reduce the harm or risks if intervention is not taken.

    • It is necessary to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence.

    For example:

     the amount of cannabis possessed and/or the person’s behaviour provide reasonable grounds for suspecting that there is an intention to supply and where it is necessary to obtain evidence by questioning.

     the person has received two cannabis warnings previously and the officer wishes to prevent any prosecution of the offence from being hindered by the disappearance of the person.

     in the case of a young or vulnerable person, it is not possible to obtain the services of an appropriate adult elsewhere than at a police station for the purposes of issuing a warning under section 65 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

    4.4.4 These guidelines do not encourage the same offender being repeatedly warned for possession of cannabis. Where it can be verified that an offender has received two previous cannabis warnings then a further warning should not be considered. Where this is the case the officer must consider the options available for prosecuting the suspect and arrest may then be necessary to enable the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the persons conduct. The rationale for any arrest must be carefully recorded.

    4.4.5 Police forces should ensure that local intelligence recording systems have the capability to identify those that are repeatedly warned for cannabis possession so that consideration can be given to dealing with them in a manner proportionate to their level of offending.
    4.4.6 It may be necessary to arrest a young offender who is in possession of cannabis on or in the vicinity of premises which may cause a risk to other young people, such as within schools, colleges or youth clubs. However, there may be local partnership agreements in place which would take precedence over these guidelines. The ACPO Guidance for Policing Drugs in Schools ‘Joining Forces’ offers further advice on this.


    5.1 When children under the age of 10 years are found in possession of cannabis, they should immediately be considered to be ‘at risk’ and this will prompt the appropriate referrals to other agencies through the child protection team. Although each case has individual circumstances, a child under 10 found in possession of cannabis must always be considered to be at risk of ‘significant harm’.


    6.1 It will be important to assess the impact of these guidelines on communities. It is, therefore, recommended that through existing databases - for example, Crime recording; Intelligence; Stop and Search - forces monitor the impact of the policing cannabis under the guidelines within their force area.

    6.2 It would be good practice to ensure that suitable localised monitoring data is available for sharing within local CDRP’s DA(A)T’s and YOT’s

    6.3 If reliable data can be monitored by forces, it is recommended that The Home Office aggregate and monitor nationally.

    20 November 2006

    Cannabis Guidelines FAQ’s

    Is it legal to carry cannabis but not smoke it?
    No. Cannabis is illegal it’s as simple as that.

    Why is ACPO producing new guidelines?
    It is ACPO policy to periodically review any guidelines. In the case of Cannabis the Home Secretary’s recently confirmed that it would stay a class C drug. In addition The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCAP) made changes to powers of arrest which made a review necessary.

    Why have you changed the name to Cannabis Warnings?
    Following extensive consultation it was generally agreed that the term ‘street warning’ was confusing. A warning can be given anywhere; on the street; in a home; in a police station or anywhere else for that matter. The term ‘Cannabis Warning’ is less ambiguous.

    Do these Guidelines cover the whole of the UK?
    ACPO provides guidelines for police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland has a separate representative body.

    Why do the guidelines no longer include “Aggravating Factors?”
    Section 24 of PACE, as amended by SOCAP, and the PACE Code of Practice on Arrest (Code G) set out the necessity criteria for arrest. Applying the necessity criteria requires the circumstances of the offence to form part of the consideration in determining whether an arrest can be made and justified

    Who can give a Cannabis Warning?
    Any police officer can give a warning rather than arresting someone who is in possession of cannabis and not suspected of dealing.

    What do I do if the subject is obstructive or does not admit to possession?
    If the offender disputes the possession of cannabis or will not comply with the procedure then you may consider it necessary to arrest in order to ensure that the offence may be properly investigated – but you must be able to justify that decision yourself.

    What is the suggested wording for a Cannabis Warning?
    There is no formal wording. It is recommended that the following points are included;
    • A record of the investigation will be made at the police station
    • The offence of possession will be recorded, for statistical purposes, as detected
    • That this procedure does not constitute a criminal record against them

    Can I search premises under Section 18 of PACE following a Cannabis Warning?
    No, in order to use the power under S18 PACE an arrest must be made for an indictable offence.

    What if I make a mistake and warn when I really should have arrested or arrest when I should have warned?
    Police sometimes have to make quick decisions based on what is presented to them. Providing you made your decision on an honestly held belief that you were taking action that was both proportionate and necessary in light of what you knew at the time then your action should be justified even if additional evidence later comes to light.

    What can I do if the cannabis is only found when the person is being searched following arrest?
    The custody officer must be informed of the circumstances. There is nothing to prevent a Cannabis Warning being given at the police station irrespective of other offences being investigated.

    When does possession become possession with intent to supply?
    It is up to you to have reasonable grounds to suspect possession with intent to supply. This could come from observed behaviour (dealing), responses to questioning or could be inferred where the person has a large amount of cannabis in their possession that requires further investigation or has equipment on them associated with dealing.

    Hasn’t the government introduced thresholds for possession?
    Section 2 of the Drugs Act 2005 provided the possibility of thresholds, above which a court must assume a drug was possessed with intent to supply unless it is proved otherwise. On 13 October, the Government announced that it was no longer introducing a threshold, so you must continue to use your judgement and experience to assess whether the amount possessed appears reasonable for personal possession only.

    What if the amount of cannabis is so small it’s not worth putting in the evidence bag?
    If it is large enough for you to identify it as Cannabis then action needs to be taken

    What is ‘Cannabis’ for the purpose of Cannabis Warnings?
    Cannabis includes any part of the plant except the stalks and seeds. So it includes Cannabis Resin, Herbal Cannabis leaves and Cannabis Oil.

    Do I still have to arrest a person that is under 18?
    There is no longer a recommendation that such young people must be arrested. You will have to justify that arrest is necessary, some examples of what might help you consider this are contained in the guidelines. However it is recognised that very often arrest will be necessary to obtain the admission/evidence required for the final warning scheme. If this is necessary in your case then you would be justified in making an arrest

    Can I give a person that is under 18 a Cannabis Warning?
    No. Section 65 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 requires that such young people are considered for a reprimand, final warning or prosecution. However, that does not mean you have to arrest at the time in order to seize the cannabis. You could decide to take the young person home to the protection of their parent or guardian. Taking this action would not prevent a later warning or reprimand being given or a prosecution being commenced, at a later date. However if that is not possible and you have no reasonable alternative then you should have no difficulty justifying that an arrest is necessary in your case.

    What if a 17 year old and a 19 year old are smoking cannabis together?
    You must look at the circumstances of each individual. You must decide in each individual case that the action you take is both necessary and proportionate. You may have to deal with them differently.

    What should I do if called to a school where a pupil is in possession of cannabis?
    Separate guidance is available for dealing with drugs in schools – Joining Forces – published June 2006. This guidance states;

    “Where a young person is found in possession of a suspected illegal drug on school or college premises and police are involved, the following questions can be asked :
    Is the young person still on school premises or in a place of safety ?
    Is the name and address of the young person known ?
    Can parents or carers be contacted if appropriate ?
    Is there a range of responses available including information, advice and guidance, referral options and/or school or college disciplinary procedures in place ?
    If the answers to all these questions are 'YES' then it may not be necessary or proportionate to arrest a young person and take them to a police station.
    When considered together, current guidance and practice suggest that a police officer does not have to arrest for minor possession if the school or college can deal with the incident in an alternative way.”

    Normally a local protocol exists between the police and the education authority. This protocol would take precedence over the advice contained in these guidelines.

    Why do those with similar amounts of Cannabis apparently get arrested in one BCU but are given a Cannabis Warning on the street in the next?
    The decision to arrest or deal with by warning is an individual one. If a BCU has a particular problem area associated with the use of cannabis then this may contribute to the need to make an arrest.

    Can I put cannabis ‘down a drain’? If so how do I record it?
    No, informal disposals would breach force property recording and audit policy, you must deal with any cannabis found in line with the guidelines.

    How many repeat Cannabis Warnings will lead to automatic arrest?
    Repeat Cannabis Warnings do not automatically mean arrest. However in writing the guidelines it was not expected that individuals will be given repeated warnings. If you are able to confirm that your suspect has had two previous warnings then to continue to warn would be inappropriate. In these circumstances you should be able to justify that an arrest is necessary for effective investigation of the offence – but you must fully explain how you made your decision in your arrest notes.

    If asked about treatment for cannabis misuse what should I say?
    In the first instance anyone can find useful information on the Government’s website www.talktofrank.com or call the FRANK Helpline free on 0800 77 66 00. In addition you could put them in touch with your local Drug Action Team or Community Drug and Alcohol Team or suggest they speak to their own doctor.

    What does it mean to be an expert in identifying Cannabis?
    This generally means that you should have considerable experience in handling cannabis and be able to recognise it, without any doubt, based on that experience. If you haven’t yet got that experience then you must ask someone who has to verify that it is cannabis before you can give a warning.

    What do we do about Cannabis Warnings and ‘critical occupations’ such as a person who is a PSV driver?
    Just because someone does a particular job, does not in itself justify an arrest. Every case should be treated on its merits but you must follow local and national procedures on sharing intelligence on persons working in high risk areas or occupations that are subject to vetting procedures.

    Can I tell partners in other agencies that someone has received a Cannabis Warning?
    Sharing Intelligence is key to effective partnership working. However all staff must comply with The Data Protection Act. Any sharing of intelligence must only be carried out within the confines of agreed partnership protocols and for a specific purpose.

    Why are Cannabis Warnings not recorded on PNC?
    A Cannabis Warning is neither a conviction nor a criminal record. At present recording of cannabis warnings is confined to local intelligence systems.

    Can I arrest someone if I believe they are under the influence of Cannabis whilst driving or being in charge of a vehicle??
    Driving a motor vehicle whilst impaired through drugs is an offence under The Road Traffic Act 1988. It is a serious offence and providing you have sufficient evidence of impairment, should be dealt with in the same way as those who drive whilst impaired through alcohol.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 10, 2017
  2. Lunar Loops

    Lunar Loops Driftwood Platinum Member & Advisor

    Reputation Points:
    Feb 10, 2006
    from ireland
    This report on policing from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation website (http://www.jrf.org.uk/knowledge/findings/socialpolicy/1998.asp). Note: I am uploading the asscoiated file to the file archive.

    January 2007 - Ref 1998
    Policing cannabis as a Class C drug

    This research, by the Institute for Criminal Policy Research, King’s College London, studies the policing of cannabis as a Class C drug. Cannabis was reclassified from a Class B to a Class C drug in early 2004, but the power of arrest for possession was retained and the sentence for supply increased. In parallel, the Association of Chief Police Officers issued guidance advising officers to issue street warnings for most possession offences, arresting only in aggravating circumstances. This study, conducted in four areas of England, examines the impact of reclassification. The study found that:
    • In 2004, 73,010 cannabis offences came to police attention, of which over a third were dealt with by a street warning.
    • In the four study sites, street warnings were used as a way of dealing with offences of cannabis possession but they were by no means the norm and were rarely used in some areas.
    • The eventual outcome of being found in possession of cannabis was not predictable and depended on factors such as the views of the officer, the amount of cannabis found, the attitude of the offender and local policy. The proportion of street warnings varied across sites from 22 per cent to 42 per cent.
    • In some police force areas, the issuing of street warnings appeared to be driven by pressure from senior officers to meet targets for the number of offences brought to justice.
    • People from black and minority ethnic groups were over-represented in the arrest and street warning statistics for cannabis possession in the four research sites.
    • Officers' understanding of the new arrangements for possession offences was variable.
    • Almost half of interviewed officers wanted to police 16 and 17 year olds in the same way as adults, by issuing them with street warnings.
    • Nearly all interviewed officers had met people who thought cannabis had been legalised.
    • Over half of officers thought the Government was wrong to reclassify cannabis to a Class C drug.
    • The recording and monitoring of street warnings was poor at both a national and a local level.
    Policy background

    The road to reclassification was a long and tortuous one. Although the cannabis laws have been a contentious issue in Britain for the last 40 years, the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) has remained largely unchanged. In 2001, the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, announced his intention to reclassify cannabis to a Class C drug. If reclassification had gone ahead without any other legislative change, the power of arrest for cannabis possession offences would have been removed.
    However, this attracted disquiet amongst some police officers and politicians, as well as sections of the media. The Government response was to announce a compromise, whereby cannabis would be reclassified as a Class C drug, but possession offences would remain an arresting offence where aggravating factors were present. Reclassification eventually took effect in January 2004. The power of arrest was retained for all possession offences, but in parallel the Association of Chief Police Officers issued guidance to the effect that most offences should receive street warnings.
    Cannabis use and enforcement

    Over the last 40 years the public’s attitude towards cannabis has become far more relaxed and use of the drug much more widespread. The British Crime Survey shows that just under nine and a half million people aged between 16 and 59 have tried cannabis, a figure that has increased year by year since the introduction of the survey in 1981. Since the introduction of the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971), the number of people coming into contact with the police for cannabis possession has also increased. The number of people cautioned or convicted for possessing cannabis peaked in 1998 at 84,310. The next four years then saw a steady decline.
    Coinciding with the announcement in 2002 that consideration was to be given to reclassifying cannabis, formal police action again started to rise. In the first year of policing cannabis as a Class C drug (2004), however, arrests dropped to just under 50,000 and whilst street warning data were unavailable for the first three months of 2004, in the last nine months of that year the police issued 27,520 street warnings.
    Support for and understanding of reclassification

    The study included an internet survey and a survey of young people. Neither sample was representative of the overall population, but they provide some indication of knowledge and attitudes. There was widespread support amongst both internet respondents and young people for reclassification. Whilst support for reclassification was widespread, understanding was far less comprehensive. Although nearly all respondents were aware of the key facts, such as cannabis remaining illegal, few respondents were particularly well informed about the subtleties of the changes, such as under-18s being treated differently to adults.
    Police officer support for reclassification was less enthusiastic, with almost three fifths of officers believing the Government was wrong to reclassify cannabis. Some officers stated that reclassification had created a ‘grey’ area about when to arrest and when to issue a street warning. Officers in busy urban sites had a better understanding of policing cannabis than those working in the quieter areas, who dealt with cannabis offences less frequently. Nearly all officers disclosed that they had dealt with a member of the public who believed – or claimed to believe – that cannabis had been legalised. One said:
    "People are adamant that it is now legal and don't believe you when you tell them that it is not. just try to explain that it has been reclassified, not legalised, and that it is still illegal to possess it." (Police officer)
    Policing possession offences in four different areas

    Local arrangements for dealing with possession offences varied across the four sites and tended to be tailored to the problems of their area. For example, in Site 1, where two highly visible, street-based cannabis markets were located, a positive arrest policy was in place and street warnings were rarely used. In contrast, the other three sites had – to a greater or lesser degree – substituted street warnings for both cautions and charges. Whilst officers in three of the sites were more likely to discover cannabis following an arrest for another offence, in Site 1 the greatest proportion of cannabis possession offences came about as a result of a police stop and search.
    In all four areas there were also officers who clearly 'specialised' in policing cannabis possession offences. Whilst many police officers expressed the view that cannabis arrests often lead to the discovery of more serious offences, analysis of custody records revealed that this occurred in less than one per cent of cases.
    People from black and minority ethnic groups were heavily over-represented amongst offenders in three of the sites and somewhat over-represented in the remaining site. Whilst the study cannot disentangle the factors that might explain this over-representation, it clearly highlights the need for police forces to monitor trends closely in the disposal of possession offences.
    Officers' decisions on whether to arrest or issue a street warning were rarely guided by the rule book alone and were frequently influenced by a number of factors, such as the amount of cannabis found, the age of the offender and the person’s offending history. Some officers still disposed of possession offences informally, although many said they were less likely to deal with offences in this way now that street warnings were available to them. Many officers considered it inequitable that they were required to arrest those under the age of 18 for possession offences. Most wanted the freedom to be able to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to issue a street warning to a young person, especially to those aged 16 and 17.
    "It would be simpler and make it fairer. It just seems a bit unfair for a 16 year old to get nicked for it and an 18 year old in the same group to get a slap on the wrist and that’s it." (Police officer)​
    The consequences of reclassification

    The rationale for street warnings was that they would be both a proportionate response and a timesaving one. The researchers found that the majority of officers who had issued a street warning did feel that it saved them time. One officer stated:
    "It’s good being able to issue a street warning, as it can be dealt with in minutes – arresting consumes a lot of time when you could be out solving other crimes." (Police officer)​
    It is difficult to estimate accurately the financial savings of reclassification through using street warnings instead of arrests. However, during the first year of street warnings the research team crudely estimated that reclassification is likely to have saved just over three and a half million pounds or 269,327 officer hours across the 43 forces of England and Wales.
    Reclassification has, however, also brought with it some unintended consequences. The decision by the Home Office to include street warnings as 'sanction detections' seems to have prompted some senior police managers to encourage their officers to issue street warnings, simply to increase their overall sanction detection rates and thereby meeting important Treasury targets. Whilst a degree of variation in policing cannabis is inevitable, in the study, people from black and minority ethnic groups were over-represented in the statistics for cannabis possession. If the public view the approach of their local police as inconsistent, confidence in low-level police work will be affected and the ability of patrol officers to police by consent will be weakened. The monitoring and the maintaining of accurate records of which groups are coming to police attention for cannabis possession offences could perhaps minimise this issue.

    The researchers conclude that the reclassification of cannabis from Class B to Class C has had a smaller impact than advocates hoped or opponents feared. The practice of issuing street warnings for cannabis possession offences is a viable one and is supported by the police and general public. Street warnings can save time and money and can avoid unnecessary arrests. Whilst the policing of cannabis is likely to still cause friction between young people and the police, the use of street warnings is now an established police practice and one that appears to be working well.
    The researchers believe, however, that there are three principles that should underpin future policy on cannabis policing. Firstly, it is essential that police policies and procedures for dealing with cannabis offences are routinely monitored by forces, and exposed to some independent scrutiny and monitoring. Secondly, if cannabis policing is to be seen as equitable and fair and the criminal justice system as open and transparent it is critical that the policing of black and minority ethnic groups is non-discriminatory, adequately monitored and critically evaluated at regular intervals. Finally, it is essential to monitor closely how performance management systems affect the policing of cannabis.
    About the project

    This study examined how the legislative changes and associated guidelines for policing cannabis as a Class C drug were put into practice following re-classification. The study largely replicated an earlier Joseph Rowntree Foundation study which examined the policing of cannabis as a Class B drug (Times they are a-changing: Policing of cannabis, May et al., 2002), revisiting the four sites within the two police forces where the first study was conducted. Work in the case study areas involved observational work with operational police officers; interviews with 150 police officers; analysis of custody records and street warning data during the period May 2004 to April 2005; and interviews with 61 young people. An internet survey of 749 respondents was also conducted. Fieldwork data was supplemented by published statistics and all fieldwork was carried out during 2005.