A NORTH-EAST police force has called a halt to the proactive detection of small-scale cannabis production in a move seen as a further step towards de-criminalisation.

In a meeting with pro-cannabis activists, Durham's Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg recently outlined the way in which Durham Constabulary now deals with users and growers of the class-B drug.

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In a subsequent conversation with The Northern Echo, he confirmed the constabulary has ended the proactive detection of small-scale cannabis production and said police will only go after users if a complaint is made or their actions are “blatant”.

While the force will continue to tackle large-scale cannabis farms and other serious issues relating to the drug, it will offer anybody caught in possession the opportunity to avoid criminal prosecution altogether.

Instead, those arrested will be offered the opportunity to engage with the force’s Checkpoint programme, an initiative aimed at eradicating ‘low level offending’ by encouraging offenders to tackle the root causes of their behaviour.

Cannabis users who have committed less than three crimes are eligible for the intensive programme but would be prosecuted if they failed to comply.

Mr Hogg, a former policeman, said the measures were part of a move to de-criminalise users, not the drug itself – though he believes there is an argument for legalisation as it relates to medicinal use of cannabis.

Calling for further drugs reform, he said: “Cannabis use is still illegal and smoking it is still a crime, but if you are caught, you will get this opportunity to stop reoffending.

“By and large we are saying it is not the top of our list to go out and try to pick up people smoking joints on street corners but if it’s blatant or we get complaints, officers will act.”

He added: “It’s about keeping people out of the criminal justice system and reducing costs, it’s about being more productive with the way we approach things. It’s also about seeking to prevent future use by keeping people out of prison.

“My position is clear – I support decriminalisation of users and support debate around the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

“What we’re trying to do now is push forward for national debate on drugs policy – it’s quite clear that what has been done for 40 years is not working and we need a different approach.”

John Holiday of the Teesside Cannabis Club said the move would allow police to focus their efforts on organised and commercial cannabis production.

He said: “None of us like to think of the trafficked Vietnamese kids who are slaved out to tend houses full of weed and we need to come together as a community to crack down on criminal enterprises of this nature."

However, Simon Stephens of North-East drugs charity Addiction said the move towards decriminalisation was irrelevant from a health perspective.

He said: “Cannabis is still implicated in psychosis and mental health problems so from our perspective, legal or illegal makes no difference – it can be detrimental to health just like alcohol."