Why Are British Border Guards Not Arresting For Drug Possession?

By McCarton Ackerman 01/28/14

Border Force officers have become surprisingly lenient in allowing passengers to carry small amounts of cannabis and even amphetamines.

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British border guards are taking a more lax approach these days when it comes to drug possession. A new report on Stansted airport revealed that border guards have been instructed not to arrest travelers who have brought small amounts of marijuana or other Class B drugs like amphetamines into Britain. The lack of punishment comes as a surprise because first-time offenders for possession of marijuana in the UK. typically receive a warning at best and a $180 fine at worst.

John Vine, the Chief Inspector of Border and Immigration, criticized Border Force inspectors in the report for their handling of a passenger “under the influence of controlled drugs” when he arrived in the UK. “The passenger was arrested despite previously issued guidance stating that arrests for ‘personal use’ quantities of Class B drugs were not to be undertaken unless there were extenuating circumstances, which there were not in this case,” he wrote. “The passenger was ‘de-arrested’ and released, even though they had been found in possession of prohibited drugs, and were perceived to be ‘under the influence’ of them.”

Although Vine did not support the man’s arrest, he described the release as “unfortunate” because freeing an intoxicated person created “a number of concerns in relation to their health and safety.” He also said Border Forces were too lenient when it came to drug mules smuggling Class A drugs via swallowing, claiming they were allowed to use the bathroom unsupervised before inspections and not given immediate medical attention.

Meanwhile, a Border Force spokesman defended the organization’s quality of work. "Our message is clear: Importing cannabis is illegal and our officers will seize it and other illegal drugs if smugglers try to bring it into the UK,” they wrote in a statement.

Like the police, Border Force officers have powers to deal with small seizures of class B and C drugs, in quantities consistent with personal use, without referring the matter to court.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.