Drug runners and dealers could avoid prison even if caught with heroin, cocaine or thousands of pounds worth of cannabis.
Sentencing guidelines issued today say that offenders who play a “limited” role in gangs could face community orders for intent to supply Class A drugs.
Dealers caught with 6kg of cannabis, valued at £17,000 and enough to fill 30,000 joints or keep an average user in supply for 17 years, could also avoid prison.
The sentences on drug “mules” will be cut substantially, while workers in small cannabis “farms” could escape custody.
Courts will be told for the first time to reduce sentences for cannabis possession if it is being used for medicinal purposes.
The guidelines maintain tough sentences for gang leaders and those who sell directly to the public, especially to children.
Rank and file police leaders said the guidelines were “daft” and warned that gang leaders would be able to escape jail by claiming that they were lesser members.
Peter Smyth, the chairman of the Metropolitan branch of the Police Federation, said: “How can a court be expected to differentiate between the person who says I am very low in the chain and those high up?
“No matter how big a role I played, if I was in their shoes and arrested for drugs I would say I was a low-level player or forced into it. If they can see a loophole then of course they will go through it.”
The guidelines, which come into effect next month, have been drawn up by the Sentencing Council and detail how the role and quantity of drugs should impact on sentencing.
They were written after research for the council concluded that the public had “little support” for custody for possession offences or long prison terms for “small-scale supply” offences.
The publication comes after Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin chief executive, said in The Daily Telegraph that drugs should be decriminalised to free the police to tackle other crimes.
Under the guidelines, courts are being told to treat those who perform “lesser” roles more leniently. They include minor members of drug-dealing gangs, such as a runner who ferries drugs from one gang member to another, someone who has “no influence on those above in the chain” or someone who has been coerced.
Low-level operatives caught with 6kg of cannabis, 20 Ecstasy tablets, valued at £80, or five grams of heroin, valued at £300, or five grams of cocaine, valued at £250, are likely to receive a community sentence.
People who supply similar amounts to friends for no personal gain could also avoid prison.
The amounts have been significantly reduced since the Sentencing Council published draft guidelines last year when the levels proposed were 50 grams of Class A drugs and up to 99 Ecstasy pills.
The final document also stressed that those who supplied directly to drug users and for a profit, such as street dealers or more significant criminals in the drug trade, could expect prison sentences.
Those selling Class A drugs face a starting point of four and a half years, with up to 16 years for a single incident, depending on the quantity of drugs involved.
For the first time, anyone dealing to those aged under 18 will also face tougher treatment by judges.
Offenders in a leading role in the production or cultivation of 11lb (5kg) of heroin or cocaine or tens of thousands of Ecstasy tablets could face up to 16 years in prison, with a starting point of 14 years’ custody.
Those producing industrial quantities of cannabis for commercial purposes could also face up to 10 years in jail under the new guidelines.
Minor members of gangs operating cannabis farms of up to 28 plants could be given a community penalty.
The guidelines also state that possessing cannabis “to help with a diagnosed medical condition” is a mitigating factor.
Drug “mules” who can argue they were vulnerable targets and exploited by organised gangs may also receive a lighter sentence.
Such offenders, often women forced or tricked into the crime, caught bringing in up to 1kg of Class A drugs would face a starting point of six years instead of the 11 for those playing a more significant role in the trafficking.
Lord Justice Hughes, the deputy chairman of the Sentencing Council, said: “Drug offending has to be taken seriously. Drug abuse underlies a huge volume of acquisitive and violent crime and dealing can blight communities.
“Offending and offenders vary widely so we have developed these guidelines to ensure there is effective guidance for sentencers and clear information for victims, witnesses and the public on how drug offenders are sentenced.
“Drug dealers can expect substantial jail sentences.”
The Association of Chief Police Officers said the move offered police “consistent guidance yet still provides the courts with flexibility to deal with each case on its own merits where appropriate”.
Martin Barnes, the chief executive of DrugScope, said: “We have long had concerns about the numbers of women involved in low-level supply and other offences as a result of violence and intimidation: far too many end up in the courts and in our prisons.
“We believe that these guidelines are a positive step forward in addressing this problem.”
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The whole drugs industry could be destroyed if they teach people how to grow their own (no more crime to gain money to buy – they’ll learn to grow and wait for the leaves and sap to mature etc..) AND make drugs available from government as well, at dirt cheap prices. Further impositions of social culture based discouragement (never prohibit but actively discourage) such as making drug users not be allowed to serve in the NON-CONSCRIPTED army, or drug users not be allowed to enter honour/awards rolls of the non-user demographic – i.e. we have discipline and are thus better, that sort of thing. ‘Soft power’. Because ‘hard power’ is too much fun, drug wars are just too engaging, make it legal and a culture or status issue and the whole thing ends though one might say that people will end up being stoned and farming more, not very productive but better than destructive crime.
Don’t jail at all simply because it costs too much, these are not violent criminals who need physical walls and bars to keep them from harming others, but do assign them to gardening related work instead of prison at all, if prison is just an excuse for brainwash sessions.