Policing cannabis in North Yorkshire

Full report


Despite the importance of the issue, remarkably little research has been conducted on the policing of cannabis possession. This study aimed to explore the enforcement of cannabis possession offences by North Yorkshire Police – a police force, which while having the lowest crime rate in England, was ranked 14th for drug offences in 2016. The study involved a detailed analysis of police data and interviews with 37 police officers over 2017 to 2018.

Key findings

  • The majority of cannabis possession offences came to light in the course of unrelated policing activity – and, once cannabis was found, officers felt that they had no choice other than to take action and enforce the law.
  • There was considerable variation in attitudes and approaches to policing cannabis within NYP with limited knowledge and variable application of the Force guidance.
  • Penalty Notices for Disorder were very rarely used
  • While interviewed officers were largely happy with the disposals available to them for dealing with adults, there was widespread frustration with the limited options when dealing with young people.
  • Very few offenders were encountered in their home wards. Nonetheless, there was a clear relationship between deprivation and cannabis policing, with people in and from more deprived wards being significantly more likely to be policed for cannabis possession.
  • Searches were frequently made on the basis of smell and, contrary to College of Policing guidance, a third of interviewed officers thought that smell alone was sufficient for a search.
  • The majority of interviewed officers felt that their policing of possession had little or no impact on cannabis use.


Research authored by: Charlie Lloyd, Geoff Page, Sharon Grace and Miranda Sellers (University of York) and Amy Matthews, Helen Reed, Sarah Sanderson, Richard Anderson and Tim Madgwick (North Yorkshire Police)