The new approach to cannabis production came from the force’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Ron Hogg, who said that anyone caught in possession of the drug would be given the opportunity to avoid prosecution by signing up to a crime reduction initiative.
Cannabis users who have committed less than three crimes would be eligible for the programme and would only be prosecuted if they failed to comply.
Mr Hogg, a former policeman himself, told the Northern Echo: “Cannabis use is still illegal and smoking it is still a crime, but if you are caught, you will get this opportunity to stop reoffending.
“By and large we are saying it is not the top of our list to go out and try to pick up people smoking joints on street corners but if it’s blatant or we get complaints, officers will act.”
He added: “It’s about keeping people out of the criminal justice system and reducing costs, it’s about being more productive with the way we approach things. It’s also about seeking to prevent future use by keeping people out of prison.
“My position is clear – I support decriminalisation of users and support debate around the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
“What we’re trying to do now is push forward for national debate on drugs policy – it’s quite clear that what has been done for 40 years is not working and we need a different approach.”
However, Simon Stephens of North-East drugs charity Addiction said the move towards decriminalisation was irrelevant from a health perspective.
He said: “Cannabis is still implicated in psychosis and mental health problems so from our perspective, legal or illegal makes no difference – it can be detrimental to health just like alcohol.”
This article was originally written by Martin Evans for The Telegraph.