More than 1,500 children – a quarter of whom were aged under 16 – were taken to court last year after being caught with cannabis by police, new figures show.
And almost 200 were prosecuted for possession with intent to supply of which 24 were aged under 16.
Norman Lamb, the LibDem chair of the Commons science and technology committee, who uncovered the figures, said such children were being unnecessarily criminalised by drug possession, leaving them with criminal records that could “haunt them for the rest of their lives.”
In a paper for the think tank Radix and drugs advocacy group Volteface, he claims legalisation would reduce use by teenagers. He claimed new medical journal evidence suggested legalisation in US states had cut use by high school students.
He argued that legalisation would allow safer products to be sold through regulated outlets, with clear labelling and a cap on potency.
It would also, he said, break the link between the sale of cannabis and the sale of other riskier drugs, and free up police resources to help in the fight against serious crime. A legal, regulated market in cannabis could also generate £1 billion in tax revenues, he claimed.
“If we are concerned about protecting children from harm, we have to act. The evidence is clear that legislation, regulation and education not only reduce cannabis use but also the violence and crime to which it is linked. By persisting with prohibition, the Government directly puts young people at risk,” he said.
He said the current approach was not working. Government figures showed around 3.2 million adults aged 16 to 59 took illegal drugs in England and Wales in the year ending April 2019.
Cannabis was the most commonly used drug with more than 7.6 per cent of adults aged 16 to 59 having taken it, some 2.6 million people.
Of those people who have taken drugs, 41 per cent did so when they were aged between 16 and 18; and 23 per cent when they were younger than 16.
“Clearly the UK’s approach to drugs is not achieving its stated aim,” said Mr Lamb.