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PCC attacks 'obsession with public health approach' to drugs

The enforcement of laws around class B and C drugs has been “pathetically weak” for years says Devon and Cornwall PCC

The enforcement of laws around class B and C drugs has been “pathetically weak” for  decades and tougher action needs to be taken nationally against cannabis, a police and crime commissioner has said.

Alison Hernandez,  PCC for Devon and Cornwall, said too much focus is placed on deaths from class A drugs such as heroin, rather than enforcing the laws around cannabis.

Speaking to journalists at the NPCC/APCC summit in Westminster this week, PCC Hernandez said: “Policing and enforcement of drugs and drug dealing in this country has been pathetically weak on class B and class C drugs for years

"We talk about new synthetic drugs entering the market and we haven't even got on top of the [exisiitng threat]. 

"Police and Crime Commissiomers know from the combatting drugs partnerships that the issue in drug treatment is for cannabis use. It's not for heroin use. That [fact] gets ignored."

She added that most people know "from the stink on our streets" across the country that cannabis use is widespread and worrying. 

She also criticised the "obsession with the public health approach to drugs" which means there is a gap in the way the police approach the problem.

She said police risk assessments look at drug deaths, which means there is a focus on heroin whereas the link between cannabis use and mental health and other problems was clear..

“That is alarming. And the fact is that it sort of gets ignored in the threat assessments that policing do, and that’s why we’re trying to influence how the police look at this as a problem,” Ms Hernandez said.

“There’s been too much conversation nationally about the legalisation of cannabis so a lot of people think it already is legal.

“And we want to remind our communities that it’s not and the damage that it causes.”

She is pushing for the classification of cannabis to be reviewed, using data from California where it has been legalised.

“There’s been some real wider impacts on society by even considering the legalisation of it and that’s why we’d like it to be considered in the round with new evidence.” 

Operation Scorpion which covers Devon and Cornwall, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Avon and Somerset and Dorset through the South West ROCU had created "the most drug disruptions in the country" PCC Hernandez said. "Four of those five forces are in the top five for drug disruptions in the whole country."

She said PCCs had a role to play in tackling drugs and OCGs by making sure the Home Office-mandated Clear, Hold, Build strategy for dealing with organised crime groups involves other agencies and forces are not left "banging their heads against the wall."

Chief Constable Trevor Rodenhurst, who is the national lead for regional organised crime units, said: “We go after organised crime and there’s a lot of money to be made in cannabis, a significant amount of it, so that the cannabis threat now manifests itself significantly in homegrown cannabis factories.

“The drug itself is stronger than it’s ever been. And itself is linked to a lot of mental health challenges … and untold harm.”

A crackdown on cannabis farms in July across England and Wales saw 1,000 illegal growing sites raided and more than 1,000 people arrested.

Police argue that crime gangs involved in cannabis production are also responsible for other crimes including Class A drug smuggling, modern slavery and violence and exploitation.

CC Rodenhurst told Police Oracle that the ROCU system was working well and had filled the role identified in the Mind the Gap report from years ago which warned of the dangers of a national agency moving away from more local policing in the fight against OCGs.

"The ROCUs have grown significantly in the last two years because a proportion of the Police Uplift proigramme was rightly been diverted to them.," he added. 

"There is a 4,000-strong capability there that is available to forces and is operational. For the first time in a decade we have increased the operational teams who go out on the ground."

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