Daily Mail

First police go soft on cannabis ...now parents smoke it at the school gates

- By Tom Witherow

A POLICE force’s ‘ soft’ approach to cannabis users has led to parents smoking the drug in a school playground, it was claimed yesterday.

Locals said drug use has become a way of life in Ferryhill, County Durham, since Chief Constable Mike Barton said his force would stop arresting those growing it for personal use.

Headmistre­ss Pauline Northcott said she had heard that the drug was being smoked and shared ‘at the bottom of the school yard’.

In a weekly newsletter, parents at Dean Bank Primary and Nursery School were told that the ‘inappropri­ate behaviour’ had been reported to the police.

Residents said they were not surprised parents were smoking in plain sight of their children, adding the area around the school often ‘stank’ of cannabis.

One father with a nine-year-old boy at the school said: ‘Since the law has been relaxed it is just a way of life, it’s become normal.

‘I think Mike Barton was wrong to do what he did. I have had to sit down with my son and tell him to stay away from people who smoke cannabis.’ Decorator Graham Jackson, 33, who has a tenyearold daughter at the school, said: ‘This is disgusting. I haven’t seen parents smoking cannabis but you can smell it. Our kids are our future and we should be setting them a good example. The police don’t do much.’

A man with a three-year- old grandchild at the school said: ‘Parents should be arrested for smoking cannabis at the school gates. The police should get tough on it. I don’t know why they don’t do anything.’

One resident said: ‘I walk past the school gates and it absolutely stinks of cannabis. It is normal around here and the police aren’t bothered. There’s little hope for the kids – they have no morals at home and no morals at school.’

Durham Constabula­ry has led the way in adopting a ‘softly softly’ approach to Class B cannabis, with at least four other forces following suit. Backed up by Police and Crime Commission­er Ron Hogg, it has said that those caught taking the drug will escape prosecutio­n if they promise to get help.

The force also made 18 arrests last year for production, down from 143 in 2016.

The maximum sentence for possession is five years in prison and an unlimited fine. Production can be punished with 14 years in jail and an unlimited fine. David Raynes, of the National Drug Prevention Alliance, said the attitude of the Durham police had ‘completely normalised the habit’.

‘The more people think it is acceptable, the more likely it is parents will think it is fine to smoke cannabis at the school gates around children,’ he said. ‘It is no business of the Chief Constable to undermine national legislatio­n.’

Mr Barton has repeatedly defended his policy. In response to the Dean Bank School newsletter he told The Mail on Sunday: ‘If I had been stood next to someone who was smoking cannabis at the school gate, they would have been nicked – pure and simple – and any of my officers would have done the same. But we can’t execute search warrants looking for a single cannabis plant.’

Latest figures show more than two million people in England and Wales smoke cannabis. Avon & Somerset, Derbyshire, Dorset and Surrey forces have also taken a relaxed stance on smoking the drug. Durham Constabula­ry declined to comment yesterday.

‘Normalised the habit’

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