Five out of six people caught with cannabis escape prosecution despite the fact that the Government has reclassified it as a more serious drug, according to new figures from the Home Office.
The figures reveal that while 160,000 people were caught with cannabis in 2008-09, a mere 27,500 were taken to court.
Cannabis, a class B drug, carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment, but police forces often choose to issue warnings and cautions to offenders instead.
The latest statistics show that a staggering 67 per cent of people caught with cannabis are given a ‘street warning’, while 16 per cent are given an official caution.
Only 17 per cent of those caught in possession of the drug are actually charged.
Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, blamed the figures on the Government for sending out a mixed messages on the drug.
Mr Grayling said: “This Government’s policy on cannabis has been all over the place, so it’s hardly surprising that the policing of cannabis use is chaotic too.
“If Ministers give out muddled messages they shouldn’t be surprised if the result is confusion.”
But the Home Office defended the figures, saying: “Police must have a proportionate response to cannabis possession. It is simply not practical to seek prosecutions for high-volume, low-level offences.”
In 2004 the Government sparked a storm of protest by downgrading cannabis from a class B drug to a class C.
The policy proved to be a disaster and the Government was forced to revert cannabis to class B.
There are now more than 22,000 people a year, almost half under the age of 18, being treated for cannabis addiction. In 1997 the number was 1,600.
In December a new study revealed that a stronger form of cannabis, known as skunk, which is common on British streets, is almost seven times more likely to trigger psychosis than ordinary cannabis.
And last July a study showed that people who try cannabis just once can show signs of behaviour linked to schizophrenia.