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When thinking of 420 friendly cities and hotspots for Cannabis activism around the world where comes to mind?

Denver, Seattle, Barcelona, Amsterdam… Durham? Could the land of Prince Bishops really become the UK’s Amsterdam?

This week on ISMOKE we take a closer look at how this northern county is leading the UK with its progressive drugs policies and focus on harm reduction and maximisation of the potential benefits that drugs can have on the consumer and the wider society.

A UKCSC banner on display. Several clubs in Durham follow the UKCSC Cannabis Social Clubs model

The northeast county of Durham has garnered a great deal of attention these past few years – ever since Its Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg announced his intention for the force to deprioritise the personal consumption and cultivation of Cannabis in the Durham constituency in July 2015. Since then, the county has gone from strength to strength.

As a result of these relaxed and liberalised policies there are now several Cannabis clubs in the county:

There are also many more in neighbouring territories including Teesside CC’s club Exhale – the northeast’s first cannabis club to have a physical location.

These clubs and communities are all doing their own thing, hosting events, connecting the community, Providing educational material and a point of contact for the general public to access unbiased information about Cannabis consumption and cultivation through social media and meet up events from experienced growers, consumers and activists.

This year the county clubs bought together by Durham City CC, Durham Cannabis Collective, Wear Valley CC and Tyneside CC worked together to organise the counties first and what will no doubt become an annual 420 event. 

On the day, 300+ attendees enjoyed music, speakers, stalls, the sunshine and of course the herb, With no police presence, the event went off without a hitch even leaving the area cleaner than when the clubs found it!

Watch our video filmed at the Durham 420 celebration this year:

There are still raids going on in Durham however, but these seem to be primarily focused on large-scale industrial grow operations and groups of individuals already involved in criminal activity. These people are exploiting the fact that Cannabis remains illegal in the UK, and can, therefore, be used to generate extraordinary amounts of money tax-free to fund their criminal enterprises.

These criminals are cultivating large quantities of cannabis without taking the time or care to ensure crops are well grown, or to make sure that they don’t use horrible chemicals or PGR’s (Plant Growth Regulators) which are unsuitable for Cannabis cultivation.

Durham constabularies police force are now the only force out of the 43 UK forces to be ranked outstanding by the government’s independent watchdog HMIC (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary).

The Durham Police Force’s fortitude and bravery in adopting such initiative drugs policies has been well received; not just in the local, but also the national press and by the majority of local constituents. In 2016 Mr Hogg was re-elected with a larger majority than his first term, a testament to the popularity of his policies. Now many of the other PCC’s around the country are looking to emulating this policy, and hopefully his popularity too.

“It’s time to review the legalisation of the Class B drug, (Cannabis) I want the benefit of drugs to be explored, Look at morphine, it comes from poppy seeds, the same as heroin”- Ron Hogg

With Ron Hogg and Mike Barnes at the helm, Durham constabulary has been following a general ethos of harm reduction from drugs in the county. There is also a proposal to open safe injection rooms for the region’s heroin addicts. First proposed back in 2013, the idea is to prescribe addicts with medical pure and unadulterated heroin and clean needles to consume in a safe environment and to have access to healthcare professionals to help them stabilise their lives and get the help they so desperately need.

This works, and it has been trailed around the world time and time again. It reduces inquisitive crime which makes up a lot of the petty charges on a heroin users criminal record, as they steal to support their addiction. It reduces the spread of HIV and Hepatitis as well as providing these poor souls with chemically pure heroin that doesn’t have any adulterants in that could kill the consumer and it allows them to stabilise not just their dose and but also their lives.

“The successes of trials around the world, and within Darlington, have led both myself and the Chief Constable Mike Barton to believe that using drug consumption rooms to treat heroin addiction should be explored further, certainly county-wide” – Ron Hogg 

Ron Hogg. Image: Volteface

“Over the last five years, police budgets were reduced by 22% and we lost 32,334 officers and staff at a time where the crime is changing, becoming more costly and complex to investigate and other calls for our service have increased. It’s a simple reality that we are required to prioritise more.” – Chief Constable Michael Barton

Dealing with drugs as a health issue rather than a punitive one makes the most sense even the Liberal Democrat’s are now beginning to realising that legalising Cannabis is the best way to negate the black hole of funds and officer time that attempting to police this peaceful plant generates.

“Research by the party drawn from official figures shows a total of 87,247 police caseloads relating to the drug were opened in 2015, with the average cost to the taxpayer per case being estimated at £2,256”

Another way in which Durham is becoming more like Amsterdam is its progressive attitude towards the way in which the force policies prostitution, keeping with their harm reduction theme Durham’s PCC commissioned the charity Changing lives, 
a national charity that aims to provide specialist support for thousands of vulnerable people and their families, to investigate the scale and intracity of sex work in the region.

“The sex industry in these areas does not rely on street-working, but rather women are more likely to sell sex to drug dealers, advertise in newspapers or online, pick up men opportunistically in pubs, or exchange sex for drugs, alcohol or accommodation”

Read more: http://www.changing-lives.org.uk/news/peer-research-sex-durham-darlington/

The report recommends the establishment of a specialist sex worker and sexual exploitation service in County Durham. There is a distinct need for a service which can reach and support sex workers and those who are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation in County Durham.

As one professional puts it, “there is a missing piece” within service provision in the region, as also acknowledged by the police who were interviewed for this research.

Detective Superintendent Fuller, the safeguarding lead for Durham Constabulary, said: “It is fair to say that women involved in sex work in County Durham have not always had the confidence to report (assaults, rape) and ensure they get the support and understanding they need.”

“We are working to improve confidence to report by prioritising this area.”

“Thousands of front-line officers had had training in how to deal with sexual violence, trauma and abuse, and more than 1,000 taxi drivers across the county had received sexual exploitation and vulnerability training”

Read more: http://www.changing-lives.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/INTERACTIVE-durham-darlington-peer-research.pdf
So generally Durham constabulary are taking a new approach to policing attempting to understand the reasons behind why people are breaking the law and not just punishing them for breaking it in the first place.

They’re also seeking to reform the existing laws because prohibition is far more harmful and detrimental to the individual and society than the substances these prohibitive laws attempt to govern.

Upcoming events in Durham

Durham City Cannabis Club
DCCC Springtime Session May 20th

DCCC June Bloom on June 24th 

Wear Valley Cannabis club
Start of summer sesh on June 3rd

Durham Cannabis Collective
DCC Up in Smoke July 15th

Our photos spotted at the Durham 420 event this year

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