POLICE chiefs have responded to criticism that they have “normalised” drug use following allegations parents were taking cannabis outside a primary school.

The Northern Echo reported this week how allegations had been made at Dean Bank Primary School, in Ferryhill, about parents smoking the drug at the school gates.

The allegations, made in November, were never proven, but prompted David Raynes of the National Drug Prevention Alliance to criticise Durham Police’s chief constable (CC) Mike Barton and police commissioner (PCC), Ron Hogg.

Mr Raynes said both men sent “mixed messages” over the drug which “undermine the intentions of parliament and essentially ‘normalise’ its use”.

He said: “Their attitude, especially to home grow, even commercial small-scale home grow, has consequences. The damage in Durham has been done. Silly policy decisions, especially those made in public and with unnecessary noise, have consequences.

“Very few constabularies now have the resources or will, to actively pursue users of cannabis or any other drug, but the CC and PCC in Durham have been active in courting publicity for their views on legalisation/decriminalisation.”

He added: “That noise they make contributes to normalisation, contributes to public behavioural change. CCs and PCCs do not make the law.

“We have ‘de-normalised’ smoking tobacco and alcohol consumption in public places through a combination of law and social stigma. It makes no sense to normalise cannabis. Children are most vulnerable to the effects of cannabis.”

Mr Hogg caused controversy in 2015 by calling for the decriminalisation of drug users, saying Durham Constabulary would no longer actively pursue cannabis users.

And Mr Barton has called for the decriminalisation of class A drugs and to reform addiction treatment.

However, he also said he was “going sensible, not soft” on drugs and, responding to the Dean Bank Primary School allegations, he added: “If I had been stood next to someone who was smoking cannabis at the school gate they would have been nicked – pure and simple – and any of my officers would have done the same.

“But we can’t execute search warrants looking for a single cannabis plant”.

Mr Hogg added: “David Raynes is correct to point to reduced police resources. Government funding cuts have meant that the force has needed to make difficult choices, related to the level of harm caused, when deciding how to prioritise resources.

“Police officers will of course respond actively when they come across any kind of crime, but the Cambridge Harm Index demonstrates the low level of harm caused by small-scale cannabis use and so it has a lower priority than many other kinds of crime.”