Volteface, a think tank which looks at alternatives to current drug policies in the UK, have published a report on how effectively the UK’s cannabis policies are safeguarding young people from harm including from a criminal justice perspective.
Overall, the number of people (children and adults) criminalised for the possession and cultivation of cannabis is decreasing. However, young people are increasingly being criminalised for possession with intent to supply cannabis, while the number of adults criminalised for supply offences is decreasing.
The data analysed revealed that the increasing number of young people are not only arrested but also increasingly prosecuted and convicted for supply offences. In the context of recent cuts to policing, a deprioritisation of supply by police on the ground, a decline in the use of Stop and Search and an increased use of youth diversion, the criminalisation of young people should be decreasing.
The research indicates that young people are increasingly being groomed by adults to sell cannabis on their behalf, although the nature of the grooming does not fall within the framework of county lines. Young people are also selling it or giving it to their peers ‘socially’. This could explain why they are increasingly being criminalised for supply offences.
Cuts to youth services, a lack of opportunities, the glamorisation of drugs and money as well as social media are proposed as reasons for making young people vulnerable to becoming cannabis dealers.
Youth justice practitioners should have this research in mind when representing children for offences relating to the supply of cannabis. Whether the young clients are the victims of child criminal exploitation clients should be explored. The fact that young people are disproportionaly prosecuted for these offences should be brought to the court’s attention so that they are not also also disproportionately punished.