Police and crime commissioner (PACC) is an elected office in England in Wales. These people ensure efficient and effective policing of their area. In 2012, they took the place of police authorities. There are other arrangements for London. Arfon Jones is a policeman with 30 years of service who is the PACC for north Wales. He has suggested that cannabis be given to drug-dependent people in prison to help them overcome opiod addiction, reduce deaths from overdoses and lower violence. He described opiods as “a damn sight more dangerous than cannabis.” US studies found that people using cannabis to manage chronic pain took opiods considerably less often; one by John Hopkins University revealed that in states where it was legal to take cannabis for medical purposes, there were 25% less overdose deaths.
Jones declared that if the authorities were serious about lessening the harm caused by a spell in prison, “they should be addressing the causes.” Many prisoners receive heroin substitutes, like buprenorphine and methadone, which are themselves addictive. Illegal drugs are widely available.
Jones, 66, is not seeking re-election, preferring to retire after working for 46 years. He remarked, “If they’re on opiods, why can’t they be prescribed cannabis?” As he pointed out, it would at least be better than the synthetic cannabinoid spice so often found in prisons. Spice can make users aggressive and paranoid or plain unable to move.
There have been over 300 dismissals and convictions of prison officers and other staff for bringing forbidden items, such as drugs, mobile phones and tobacco, into prisons in England and Wales in the last five years, as the Guardian recently reported.
While taking cannabis recreationally is illegal in the United Kingdom, taking it for medical purposes, of which there are many, is not.
Jones resides in Wrexham, near HMP Berwyn, where staff have been punished for smuggling drugs and spice has caused deaths. When interviewed by the Guardian, he commented that most UK police forces had already instituted ”de facto decriminalisation” of the drug.
People possessing drugs, even hard ones like heroin, in north Wales are no longer prosecuted automatically, instead attending a year-long narcotics education and rehabilitation scheme. Jones championed the move. He believes it will reduce re-offending rates and the police and court time consumed. There will be a pilot project in a particular area of north Wales which, if successful, will then expand across the region in the next 12 months. Cambridge University developed the programme. It has been successfully operated in Durham, earning an award from the Howard League for Penal Reform and reducing re-offending drastically: 4% of attendees re-offend compared to 19% of others. One benefit is that people escape a criminal record, which can limit opportunities for employment and education.
Ben Campbell of the pressure group Transform Drug Policy Foundation saluted Jones. He compared the prohibition of drugs to that of alcohol in the United States in the 1920s. This, he claimed, just created a mammoth opportunity for organised crime groups.
The idea of doling out free cannabis in prison is not new. Dr Stephanie Sharp, a Scottish drug expert who co-founded the Glasgow Expert Witness Service, made the suggestion in 2018.