Government figures have revealed how many people have been caught with cannabis in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.
The statistics show the number of people caught with cannabis in Bristol has dropped, as experts suggest police are directing resources elsewhere.
Data released by the Home Office shows there were 630 crimes in Bristol where someone was in possession of marijuana last year.
This compares to 206 in North Somerset and 195 in South Gloucestershire.
Cannabis is classified as a Class B substance. This means possessing it can land offenders with up to five years behind bars.
Only 53% of those recorded with it by Avon and Somerset Constabulary in 2018 were punished – either with a warning, a penalty notice, a caution or a criminal charge/court summons.
The recent drop in offences reinforces a long term trend in cannabis possession.
The number of people caught with the drug is 66% lower than it was a decade ago. In 2008, there were 1,854 cannabis possession offences recorded in Bristol , despite the drug only being categorised as a Class C substance at the time.
Nationally, the number of cannabis possession offences increased from 80,195 in 2017 to 84,365 in 2018.
However that was still lower than the 85,934 recorded in 2016, and a whopping 49% lower than ten years ago – suggesting police forces across the country are changing how they tackle cannabis possession.
The number of police officers has fallen by 13% nationally over the same period.
Simon Kempton, Police Federation of England and Wales’ operational lead, said: “With the service facing unprecedented levels of demand and swinging cuts from the government, chief officers are having to prioritise resources where the greatest threat, risk and harm is.
“Our members will always do their very best to keep our communities safe but are often frustrated they can’t provide the level of service they want to.
“It’s impossible to do everything we once could, or that the public expect us to do, until the government starts to take policing seriously and starts to replace the almost 22,000 officers we have lost since 2010.
“There has been a shift away from prioritising people in possession of cannabis in some force areas.
“Instead, those resources are directed in other areas and those individuals are given help they need to move away from taking illicit drugs rather than putting them through the criminal justice system – but the answer to this issue lies beyond just the police service, with a holistic approach including education and health services.”
‘This is a positive development’
James Nicholls, chief executive officer of drug law reform charity Transform, said: “We welcome the police shifting focus from cannabis possession to more serious crime.
“Faced with cuts, police forces know arresting people for minor possession is not the best use of scarce resources.
“We would prefer that decriminalisation is adopted as a government policy, as is the case in Portugal; but we also welcome the growing number of local police forces introducing schemes to divert people away from criminal justice towards education and support.
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A National Police Chiefs’ Council spokesman said local police force priorities were a matter for chief constables, in liaison with their police and crime commissioners.
He said cannabis feeds into a multi-million pound illicit market, is an “increasingly potent and harmful drug” and is a “key driver” in other serious crimes, including serious violence, human trafficking and modern slavery.
He added: “The law provides a range of options for dealing with those found in possession of cannabis that have to be proportionate to the individual circumstances – these include out of court disposals, cannabis warnings and prosecution.
“Police officers make use of all of these options using their professional judgement and experience.
“However, there is evidence to suggest that recommending minor offenders for early intervention treatment instead of pursuing convictions can prevent reoffending.”
Avon and Somerset Constabulary has been contacted for comment.