Comment: Stop-and-search is another unintended consequence of our cannabis laws

By Peter Reynolds

The stop and search scandal is mainly about cannabis. It's about lazy, misdirected police officers trying to pick low hanging fruit rather than tackling crime which causes real harm.

It was at the root of the 2011 riots, as unreasonable and intrusive policing created division in our society, particularly with black people. The over-enforcement of a deeply unjust and irrational law causes far more harm than it prevents.

Of course, if a police officer has genuine reason to believe that someone is carrying a weapon or is engaged in 'real' crime then it is quite right to stop-and-search, but that has nothing to do with the reason that millions of people are being harrassed by police officers on the basis that they may be carrying a small bag of weed.

Any bad and unjust law is bound to cause resentment. When it's used as an excuse to oppress and terrorise a large section of society then it should be changed. How can the police afford to spend so much time pursuing a victimless crime when they are constantly whinging about a lack of resources?

It's illegal to be in possession of cannabis, of course, but as Her Majesty's inspector of constabulary discovered in Kent just a couple of weeks ago, police officers are focused on this so-called crime because it's an easy way of getting their performance statistics up. A few dozen cannabis warnings is a much easier day's work than trying to solve a burglary or dealing with a violent drunk.

The consequences of the laws against cannabis run deep and spread wide in our society. These laws create crime. They encourage criminal gangs to involve children in their illegal dealing. Just as with alcohol prohibition in the US, it is the vulnerable members of society that suffer.

It is simply idiotic that our society promotes alcohol, the most dangerous drug of all, yet tries, like King Canute, to hold back the unstoppable tide of the three tonnes of cannabis we consume every day in Britain. It's hardly surprising that the fall out is division, resentment and more real crime that causes harm and fear because police officers' attention is diverted into political oppression, not protecting people.

In fact, what stop and search amounts to is the enforcement of the alcohol industry's monopoly on recreational drug use to the enormous detriment – both financial and medical – of the population. It runs even deeper than that, but is ultimately about private commercial interests being given greater weight than that of the general population. Britain is the only country in the world that has licensed a pharmaceutical company to grow hundreds of tonnes of cannabis every year for medicine, yet the man in the street is told that there is no medicinal value in cannabis. All over Europe and America people in pain, suffering and disability can access cannabis as medicine but in Britain you'll be harassed and possibly sent to jail.

Stop and search is mainly a product of our irrational, unscientific and corrupt drug laws. As with so many other bad laws, it causes far more problems than it solves.

Peter Reynolds is the elected leader of CLEAR Cannabis Law Reform which is the largest membership-based drug policy reform group in Britain.

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