Labour frontrunner Keir Starmer has said he supports police pilot schemes where people found in possession of cannabis are not arrested or prosecuted.
In a Channel 4 leadership debate, the former Director of Public Prosecutions said he would not back decriminalisation of the drug “immediately” if he became PM, but did back projects where an alternative approach was taken.
Asked as part of a quick-fire question-and-answer session if he would decriminalise cannabis, he replied: “I wouldn’t immediately. I have supported schemes where cannabis possession, you’re not arrested, you’re not prosecuted for it. And I believe in that.”
Fellow leadership contenders Rebecca Long-Bailey and Lisa Nandy also said they would not change the law as it stands, but did suggest that it was time for a public debate on the issue.
Asked the same question, Long-Bailey said: “No but I think we need to have a conversation nationally.” Nandy replied: “No, let’s have a proper review.”
Starmer has made clear in the past that decriminalisation would reduce drug related violence or halt the drugs trade.
But he said in 2018 that he wanted to “change the conversation around drugs and gangs”.
Several police forces in the UK have in recent years opted to follow “diversion” schemes where those found in possession of soft drugs are not prosecuted but are diverted instead towards treatment and education services.
Thames Valley Police in Newbury operates a pre-arrest scheme which offers those caught in possession of a range of drugs - not just cannabis - the option of entering recovery and education services run by a charity.
The Guardian reported last year that in the first three months of the experimental scheme, police apprehended 35 people for possessing drugs, mainly cannabis. Of those, 34 undertook the diversion drug classes and one was referred to a treatment centre.
Durham and Avon & Somerset Police forces have also run “diversion” schemes which have resulted in scores of drug users avoiding court, jail and a criminal record.
Elsewhere in the Channel 4 debate, Nandy said that if there were a referendum on the monarchy, she would vote to abolish it, although she joked that she would like to see “Queen Meghan”. Long-Bailey said she would not abolish the monarchy, while Starmer said he would prefer a slimmed-down version.