AROUND £1m of cannabis went up in smoke as campaigners renewed their call for decriminalisation of the drug.

The culmination of a long-running drugs operation saw Cleveland Police burn a huge quantity of seized marijuana at an incinerator in Teesside.

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Inspector Tony Cross, from the Community Drugs Enforcement Team, said the act prevented £1m from getting onto the streets across Cleveland and "into the pockets of criminals".

The cannabis was seized as a result of gathering intelligence from local communities.

Insp Cross said: "Today is a culmination of gathering that information and taking action against those that think putting drugs into our communities is acceptable.

"It shows that it won’t be tolerated and that we take reports of drug activity extremely seriously."

However, activists calling for the decriminalisation of the drug – which is legal in several other countries – accused the police of wasting limited resources on what they called a "publicity stunt".

John Holliday, founder of Teesside Cannabis Club, said regulated marketing of the drug would take proceeds away from criminals while generating income for stretched public services.

He said: “These publicity stunts used by authorities around the country do nothing but pacify the conservative crowd that insist the war on drugs is winning.

“It is failing daily and this act confirms this.

“The police should use the little resources they do have to prioritise more serious crimes.

“Instead of wasting police resources and council resources, a regulated market would create vastly more than that £1m currently going up in smoke.”

Cleveland’s Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger said that the incineration was a message from the police to say that drug dealing would not be tolerated in communities.

In relation to the legalisation of cannabis, he backed calls for a Royal Commission that would scrutinise existing drugs laws.

He said: “We need to look at all aspects and a Royal Commission would address all arguments.

“I hope one day we get a government that would do that but successive governments have fallen short.

“However, as long as the law is the law, the police must enforce it.”

Cleveland Police has uncovered at least 140 cannabis farms across Cleveland this year.

Officers are urging the public to look out for signs of cannabis farmers in their area and to report any suspicions to them on non-emergency number 101.

Tell-tale signs include a potent smell, blacked out windows, noise and excessive security.