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Lambeth Cannabis Policing Experiment

Published:21 March 2002
Fieldwork:3 November - 17 December 2001 and 21 January - 5 February 2002
Keywords:Crime, Drugs, Police
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Following the Report of the Independent Inquiry into the Misuse of Drugs Act the Lambeth Police have been experimenting with new ways of dealing with cannabis possession without using arrest. The experiment is in line with the Report's recommendations. The Police Foundation has mounted its own independent survey of resident reaction to the experiment in collaboration with the MORI Social Research Institute. In parallel the Metropolitan Police has been evaluating the results of their scheme from a policing perspective.

Findings indicate that overall approval for the scheme is very high — eight in ten residents (83%) either support the scheme outright (36%), or support it conditionally (47%). Only 8% disapprove of the scheme.

The two conditions are:

  • if the police spend more time tackling serious crime (32%)
  • if they actually reduce serious crime in Lambeth (15%).

The scheme dealt only with cannabis not hard drugs. 61% of Lambeth residents support this distinction and do not want the scheme extended to hard drugs.

Particular elements of scheme

Respondents were asked about particular key elements of the scheme (giving a warning for cannabis possession; notifying parents of juveniles warned; continued prosecution for supplying; confiscation of cannabis; maintaining records of previous warnings; retention of the power to prosecute).

  • Over 66% approved of each of these six elements.
  • The two most strongly supported elements were approved of by over 75% of those interviewed:
  • notification of parents of juveniles (88%), and
  • giving a warning to those found in possession (78%).
  • Even the least popular element (the police being able to prosecute repeat offenders) was supported by 68% of respondents.

Knowledge of the scheme

A representative sample of 2,055 Borough of Lambeth residents was interviewed in November and December of last year. At that time:

  • 56% said that they knew at least a little about the scheme
  • 41% said that they knew nothing about it at all.

Even among the 56% who knew something about the scheme (a sub-sample of 1,144), there was a degree of confusion. Examples of confusion are:

  • only two in five of those aware of the scheme (38%) correctly said that the police will give warnings instead of formal cautions;
  • only 14% knew that cannabis would be confiscated by the police;
  • nearly 37% inaccurately thought that the police will 'let people off for possessing cannabis';
  • 6% incorrectly said that cannabis had been legalised;
  • 2% inaccurately thought that cannabis had been decriminalised or that you could no longer get a criminal record for possession;

Impact of scheme

Most people (74%) interviewed agreed that the police will re-direct their resources into serious crime. However, respondents were far less likely to believe it will actually make a difference either to the level of serious crime or to use of hard drugs.

  • 45% felt that there will be no difference to the level of serious crime.
  • 52% believed there would be no difference in serious drug use.
  • Notably, 19% of the people who think that serious crime will increase and 21% who think use of hard drugs will increase still approve of the scheme outright

Other types of impact:

  • 64% agreed that 'the scheme will improve relations between the police and the community'
  • 71% believe 'the scheme is a better way of dealing with young people who use cannabis'.

Who approves/disapproves of the scheme?

While outright or conditional approval for the scheme is the majority attitude across all of the demographic groups, approval and disapproval are linked statistically to the following memberships:

  • Being white, male, higher social class and aged 25-44 is linked to approval
  • Being non-white, lower social class, over 65 and female is linked to disapproval.
  • A particular link was found between disapproval and having a child in primary school

Support is also surprisingly high among other sections of the population who might have been expected to disapprove of the scheme:

  • Of those who are against the legalisation of cannabis, 24% support the scheme outright.
  • Of those who think cannabis leads to harder drugs, 26% support the scheme outright.

The national picture

A national omnibus survey exercise was used to compare the national views about the scheme with the views of Lambeth residents.

Around a quarter of people across Britain would support outright a scheme such as the one in Lambeth in their own locality. If conditional supporters are included, approval rises to about three-quarters of the population.

The main differences between Lambeth and the national picture are:

  • there is less outright approval for the scheme (27% compared with 36% in Lambeth),
  • more disapproval (12% compared with 8% in Lambeth).
  • conditional approval is very similar (49% nationally, and 47% in Lambeth).

Other findings are:

  • Both nationally and in Lambeth, the expectations about the scheme's impact are relatively similar. Around half the respondents believe the scheme will make relatively little difference to the level of serious crime or use of hard drugs.
  • Doubts about the scheme resulting in police putting more time into tackling serious crime is higher in the national population (15% vs. 7% in Lambeth).
  • Nationally, people have more cautious views towards cannabis
    • 49% disagree with legalisation compared with only 40% in Lambeth
    • 53% think cannabis leads to harder drugs, compared with only 37% in Lambeth.

This study was funded by The Esmé Fairbairn Foundation, The Paul Hamlyn Foundation and The Pilgrim Trust

Technical details

Lambeth Survey: MORI conducted interviews with a representative sample of 2,055 with people aged 16+ using in-home face-to-face interviews between 3 November and 17 December 2001. Interviews were carried out in 137 randomly selected sampling points across Lambeth Borough. Results are weighted by sex, age, and ethnicity to reflect the population of Lambeth.

National Survey: Questions were placed on the MORI Financial Services Omnibus, the regular MORI survey among the general public. A nationally representative quota sample of 1,952 adults aged 16+ was interviewed throughout Great Britain by MORI in 192 different sampling points. Interviews were conducted face-to-face, in respondents' homes, using CAPI (Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing) between 21 January and 5 February 2002. Results are weighted by class, sex by age, and television region to reflect the population of the country.

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