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Cannabis diversion pilot has London’s backing 

Home » Cannabis diversion pilot has London’s backing 

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A new YouGov survey has revealed Londoners support the new cannabis scheme to divert young people away from the criminal justice system.

Six in ten (63 per cent) Londoners expressed support for the pilot according to results from a new YouGov survey. Only 19 per cent of Londoners surveyed were opposed to the scheme.

Similar to other schemes currently being carried out across the country, the pilot is set to take place in Bexley, Lewisham and Greenwich. It aims to see 16 to 24-year-olds caught with small amounts of cannabis diverted to counselling and education instead of being put through the criminal justice system.

The results demonstrated that supporters of the scheme included both Labour and Conservative voters at 69 per cent and 55 per cent respectively and that 28 per cent do not support the government’s current approach to drug policy. It also revealed that half of those who oppose decriminalisation of soft drugs such as cannabis still support the diversion pilot.

Katya Kowalski, head of operations at Volteface, the organisation which produced the report commissioned by Lewisham, commented: “The recent survey on the cannabis pilot is incredibly positive. 

“It clearly demonstrates that the majority of Londoners do not think the current approach is working. Although individuals may still have strong opinions and remain divided on drug policy, it is evident that public opinion around criminalising young people is changing. 

“The acknowledgement that our current systems are not fit for purpose is a promising step in the direction of evidence-based drug reform.”

Of those surveyed, 36 per cent believed that the scheme would be successful in reducing crime where as 37 per cent believed it would not be successful.

In January, following the leak of the report, 15 MPs wrote to the Mayor of London calling for him to drop the scheme as they believed it would have “wider ramifications than heightened violent crime”, suggesting in their letter that it will “effectively decriminalise” cannabis possession and will funnel “cash into the pockets of criminals”. However, a spokesperson from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) stated that the Mayor does not have the legislative power to decriminalise cannabis.

In response to the letter, Kowalski highlighted that the pilot is actually in line with the government’s new ten-year drug strategy that aims to treat drug use and addiction as a health rather than a criminal matter. 

With the rest of the globe moving towards a more progressive stance on drugs policy, Volteface and other reform groups have advocated for an evidence-based approach. A recent report from Release has put forward 14 equity principles to integrate into the UK’s future legal market – highlighting the disproportionate effect of current drugs policy on Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic groups.

Read more: New report lays out cannabis social equity principles for UK

Principles in the report focus around reinvesting tax revenue into over-criminalised communities and supporting harm reduction; removing criminal or civil sanctions for use or possession of cannabis; releasing those cannabis-related prisoners; and, expunging past cannabis convictions, among others.

The London diversion pilot scheme has not yet received final approval from the MOPAC.

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