Monday 23 January 2012

Drug Users Could Avoid Jail Under New Guidelines Published By The Sentencing Council For Judges


Friends socially sharing drugs and those using cannabis for medicinal purposes could escape jail under new guidelines for judges. Drug runners and small-time dealers caught with heroin, cocaine or thousands of pounds worth of cannabis could also avoid prison. Instead, low-level operatives caught with 6kg of cannabis, 20 ecstasy tablets, or five grams of heroin or cocaine are likely to receive a community sentence. The guidelines, which come into force on February 27, are expected to be met with mixed reaction. They state a prison sentence may not be necessary for people who supply small amounts of narcotics to share with their friends for no personal gain. They also urge judges for the first time to reduce sentences for cannabis possession if it is being used "to help with a diagnosed medical condition". It is the first time all courts in England and Wales have been given a comprehensive guideline setting out how the role of the offender and the quantity of drugs should influence sentencing. So-called drug "mules", often women forced or tricked into the crime, could face a starting point of six years if deemed to be playing a "lesser role" in bringing up to 1kg of heroin or cocaine into the country. This is compared to the 11-year starting point if the offender was one of the leading figures. Those caught with small amounts of cannabis could avoid jail But the Sentencing Council said offenders who were employed by someone else to import or export drugs regularly for profit would still face tough sentences of up to life in prison. It said tougher sentences could also be handed down to key players guilty of producing drugs on a large scale. 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. Those producing industrial quantities of cannabis for commercial purposes could also face up to 10 years in jail. Anyone dealing to those aged under 18 would also face tougher penalties. Under the guidelines, street dealers will still face jail, with those playing a key role in selling class A drugs facing 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.