London, United Kingdom: Marijuana possession arrests declined sharply in 2004 following the enactment of national legal reforms downgrading marijuana from a Class B to a Class C "soft" drug.
According to data released this week by the British Home Office, police made 24,875 fewer pot possession arrests in 2004 than in 2003, a decrease of 36 percent from last year's total of 68,625 arrests. The Office estimated that the reduction in arrests saved an estimated 199,000 hours of police work.
"A year ago we reclassified cannabis on the recommendation of the advisory council on the misuse of drugs, so that the police could concentrate on the far more destructive Class A drugs," Home Office minister Caroline Flint said. "One year [later] the picture is encouraging, with significant savings in police time which can now be used to drive more serious drugs off our streets and make our communities safer."
Under Britain's reclassification scheme, which took effect last January, individuals found possessing minor amounts of marijuana are verbally cautioned by police, but no longer arrested. (Police do retain the discretion to make an arrest under special "aggravated" circumstances, such as if marijuana is smoked on school grounds or if the marijuana possessed is deemed to be for purposes other than personal use.)
In the United States, 12 states have enacted laws decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Under those laws, offenders are cited and fined for possessing marijuana in lieu of a criminal arrest and prosecution.
For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, at (202) 483-5500.