|Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images|
|A man smokes a joint in Russell Square at the start of the annual cannabis march in London. If he’s been caught with cannabis two times before, he could get up to five years in prison under U.K. law.|
More than 4,200 people in London have been given £80 fines on the spot for possessing cannabis in the first year of the British government’s “crackdown on drugs.”
Figures released by the Met show that nearly half those fined handed over the cash quickly, reports Martin Bentham at the London Evening Standard.
But the majority of offenders — 55 percent — failed to pay the fine with the 21-day deadline required by law, and police had to pass the unpaid fines to magistrates’ courts for collection.
The additional cost of collecting the money means that much, if not all, of the potential revenue from those fines is likely to be wiped out, Bentham reports.
Amid a new “Reefer Madness” hysteria in the United Kingdom’s media around marijuana’s supposed impact on mental health, cannabis was upgraded to a “Class B” drug in January 2009.
A three-tier penalty is now in effect for pot: A person found with marijuana for the first time is given a “cannabis warning,” similar to a caution. Those caught a second time are fined £80, and a third offense leads to criminal prosecution.
The Home Office claims the aim of what it describes as an “escalated enforcement regime” is to avoid clogging up the courts with occasional cannabis users.
Heavier penalties associated with Class B status — which include up to five years in prison for possession — would be reserved for “persistent users.”
Does the United Kingdom really plan to lock up potheads for five years? The civilized world is watching.
Figures show that police caught cannabis offenders 53,138 times in the 12 months ending on January 31, 2010.
Of those cases, 37,562 resulted in warnings. Another 4,206 were given the £80 fine, while 7,567 third-time offenders were prosecuted.
The Met figures were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.