Nearly one quarter of people caught with cannabis in Lancashire last year were charged, figures reveal.
Campaigners say enforcement of the law dictating cannabis use is a “postcode lottery” and have called for possession of the drug to be decriminalised altogether.
Home Office data shows that of 1,019 cannabis possession offences closed by Lancashire Constabulary last year, 236 resulted in a charge or summons.
That’s a charge rate of 23 per cent, although it excludes a further 168 offences that had not yet been assigned an outcome.
Across England and Wales, there were 117,000 cannabis possession offences recorded in 2020 that had reached an outcome.
Of those, 17 per cent ended in a charge – down from 21 per cent in 2019.
The figures do not include Greater Manchester Police as it did not submit complete data.
North Wales Police recorded the highest charge rate, at 34 per cent, while Surrey Police charged just seven per cent of offences.
Niamh Eastwood, executive director of drugs charity Release, said young people are disproportionately criminalised for having the drug, limiting their education and work opportunities.
“It is right that most people caught in possession are not charged and avoid the burden of a criminal record,” she added.
“That being said, the postcode lottery that exists in how this offence is treated is why we need a national approach.”
She said the Misuse of Drugs Act – which is 50 years old this month – has not succeeded in reducing drug use and called for decriminalisation of possession coupled with investment in treatment.
The most common type of outcome recorded by Lancashire Constabulary last year was a formal out of court disposal, which accounted for 263 offences.
The majority of these took the form of fines, while the rest were cautions.
In 2019-20, a new outcome was introduced to reflect when an offender is sent on a diversion scheme, such as a drug awareness course or treatment.
Lancashire Constabulary recorded using this type of scheme on just three occasions last year, while across all police forces it was used around 2,300 times.
“Police on the front line recognise that the criminalisation of small-scale drug possession is expensive and counterproductive,” said Martin Powell, head of partnerships at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation.
“We also know that the enforcement of cannabis laws falls very disproportionately on people from black communities, leading to greater mistrust of the police.
“This is why forces across the country are introducing programmes to divert people away from the criminal justice system into education and support.”
Mr Powell added that some forces which use diversion schemes can record them under other categories such as community resolutions.
A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We have no plans to decriminalise cannabis – there is clear scientific and medical evidence that it is a harmful drug which can damage people’s mental and physical health, and harms individuals and communities.
“The police have a range of powers at their disposal to deal with drug-related offences in a way that is proportionate, and in the public interest.”