"What discretion do you need?" - Factors influencing police decision making in possession of cannabis offences

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Research suggests that those most likely to be policed for cannabis possession are young, ethnically minoritised, urban males belonging to ‘suspect’ groups. This study examined police decision-making in cannabis possession cases in a Northern England force. Findings demonstrate that, outside of a few cases in which cannabis was being used in public, the policing of cannabis in this force area most often involved ‘accidental’ discovery, in the sense that the original interest in individuals or vehicles was not related to cannabis possession, but was rather based on ‘suspicion formation’ concerning certain types of car, behaviours, people and locations. Once detected, officers felt obliged to take action due to pressure from the public and managers; the harms they associated with cannabis; and because the smell of cannabis made its public use difficult to ignore. There was little evidence of informal responses to cannabis suggesting a shift towards policing driven by force guidelines. However, guidelines differ, meaning that people who receive a criminal record in some force areas would not be criminalised in others. The consequences of having such a record suggests that achieving consistency in the policing of cannabis should prioritised.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCriminology and criminal justice
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 13 Nov 2022

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  • Policing
  • Discretion
  • cannabis
  • drug offences

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