Cannabis smokers caught in possession of the drug will escape with no more than a warning when the drug is reclassified next year, it emerged today.But a new "three-strikes-and-you're-out" strategy by police will ensure problem users are still dealt with and could be prosecuted through the courts.After he got out, he found work as a forklift operator, and distanced himself from his old life. He wandered from store to store, bought a few things, still shaking his head about his girlfriend's hair appointment.After a while, he drifted into a department store called Mervyn's.Users stopped in the street once or twice with cannabis will simply have the drug confiscated, be given a formal warning and sent on their way.But anyone caught three times in a year will face tougher penalties including a caution or arrest and charge for possession.The revised stance on cannabis will come into effect by next July once the Home Secretary David Blunkett reclassifies the drug from Class B to the less serious Class C in the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Hinting at the new strategy, which is expected to be outlined in detail at the conference tomorrow, he said: "Under the new classification, cannabis possession will be policed in a way which is not resource intensive."In most cases a warning will be sufficient together with confiscation of the drug."But where there are aggravating factors the police will retain the power of arrest."He added that as well as freeing up police time, the move to reclassify cannabis in line with the dangers it posed to communities would also make drug education more "credible"."We have to have effective education if we are going to reduce the problem that we have," Mr Ainsworth said."One has to see overwhelmingly the decision to reclassify cannabis in that light."Young people are not stupid.
"They were million-dollar socks with gold on 'em," he says now, laughing almost uncontrollably, as he tells the story 18 years later, from a telephone in a correctional facility in Soledad, California. "No, they were ordinary white socks," he says, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.
"Didn't even have any stripes." Wilkerson never made it out of the store.
We need to be able to talk to them in credible terms if we are going to be able to stop them experimenting and potentially becoming problem drug users."Mr Ainsworth said it was important that children and young people did not receive a mixed message on drugs."Cannabis is harmful," he said. It is not legal."But it is not like heroin and it is not like cocaine and unless we have that credible differentiating message we will not be able to get the message to young people in this country."One part of that would need to involve the cracking down on the type of "cannabis cafes" which have opened up across the country in the past few years, he added.
Such establishments were not legal and both he and the Home Secretary were keen to see the police use the powers they have, and will still have next year, to "come down" on the people involved in running them."The powers are there to be used and we would like to see the police using them," Mr Ainsworth said.