The Observer newspaper reported that one of Britain's most senior police officers favours decriminalising the personal use of drugs such as cannabis to allow more resources to be dedicated to tackling high-level dealers.
Tim Hollis, chief constable of Humberside police, said the criminal justice system can offer only a "limited" solution to the UK's drug problem, according to the Sunday newspaper.
It said Hollis's dramatic intervention comes as the government is reviewing its 10-year drug strategy amid growing warnings from experts that prohibition does not deter drug use and that decriminalisation would liberate precious police resources and cut crime.
Hollis, chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' drugs committee, said he did not want to criminalise young people caught with minor amounts of substances such as cannabis. A criminal record that could ruin their career before it began was disproportionate, he was quoted as saying.
Hollis said budget cuts had forced police to "prioritise" resources towards tackling organised criminal networks rather than individuals carrying drugs for personal use. He also backed calls for the current drug classification system into class A, B and C to be re-examined following concerns that bracketing substances such as heroin and ecstasy in the same class is confusing, the report added.
"We would rather invest our time in getting high-level criminals before the courts, taking money off them and removing their illicit gains rather than targeting young people. We don't want to criminalise young people because, put bluntly, if we arrest young kids for possession of cannabis and put them before the courts we know what the outcome's going to be, so actually it's perfectly reasonable to give them words of advice or take it off them."
Hollis said financial constraints meant it was impractical to arrest everybody caught with new designer drugs available online and added that a debate was needed over whether alcohol and nicotine, which together kill more than 120,000 people a year, should be included in attempts to tackle illegal drugs.
"My personal belief in terms of sheer scale of harm is that one of the most dangerous drugs in this country is alcohol. Alcohol is a lawful drug. Likewise, nicotine is a lawful drug, but cigarettes can kill," he said. "There is a wider debate on the impacts to our community about all aspects of drugs, of which illicit drugs are one modest part," The Observer cited the police leader as as adding.