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Commissioners highlight damage ‘recreational’ drugs cause as six forces mount huge winter crackdown

People who use cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy on nights out will be targeted by police this winter in a significant joint operation by six police forces.

Operation Scorpion – instigated by five Police and Crime Commissioners in South West England – will see a shift in focus with police engaging drug users as well as dealers.

Avon & Somerset, Dorset, Devon & Cornwall, Wiltshire and Gloucester forces will be joined by British Transport Police for a series of crackdowns on the night-time economy. Operational locations and exact timings are being kept under wraps but city and town centres across the region will be the focus of activity from November.

Drug users will be offered help and support and encouraged to consider the harmful effects of drugs on health and the violence and criminality involved in the supply chain. Multiple arrests and drugs seizures are anticipated.

The five force Commissioners are challenging the term ‘recreational’ often used to describe drugs like cocaine and cannabis, saying they prefer to describe them as ‘illegal gateway drugs’.

Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ co-chair for Substance Misuse and Addiction, David Sidwick, is among those who have called for a review of the classification of cannabis, arguing that the harm it does to society is greatly under-estimated.

He said: “All of the five regional forces and commissioners are working together to help protect our residents and communities from the harm that illegal drugs do.

“I would ask those who take illegal drugs or think that ‘drug taking’ is no big deal, and that it doesn’t do any ‘real harm’ to think again and maybe consider those vulnerable children who are ‘groomed’ into selling cannabis or MDMA, those who are subjected to the practices of modern slavery by organised crime groups to produce the drugs you may take at the weekend and those who are treated with violence and intimidation to make sure you have your ‘fix’ - there is absolutely nothing ‘recreational’ about any of that.”

“And that is leaving aside the risk of psychosis, cancer, birth defects and a myriad of other possibilities depending on your poison. There is a reason these drugs are illegal and it is about the harm they do to individuals, families and communities.

“Illegal drug use is just that – illegal - and the partners of Op. Scorpion will continue to work together - targeting criminality, taking drugs off our streets, sharing intelligence, protecting the vulnerable and putting a ring of steel around the South West.”

Host Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly Alison Hernandez said: “We are ready in our region for Operation Scorpion which is back next month with a sting in its tail.

"This is not to say that policing drug dealing and consumption isn’t a part of our force’s daily operational activity, but that this is a reminder to everyone that the South West is a hostile environment for drug dealers. We are working together across boundaries and using all the tools and resources available to show that the police are listening to their communities.

“This winter we are focusing particularly on drugs around the night-time economy to send a clear message to those who think snorting a line of coke or smoking cannabis is a fun thing to do. We are asking them to reflect not only on the harm they are doing to themselves, but also on the supply chain of misery, exploitation and criminality that their money is supporting. These ‘party drugs’ can be glamourised or associated with users who may appear more affluent, but this message is about making it clear, if you are engaging with illegal drug activity then you are helping support criminal networks that run county lines, which exploits vulnerable children by involving them in the storing and transportation of drugs.”

Operation Scorpion activity in the region has so far resulted in 127 arrests and 465 disruptions to drugs lines. More than £180k, weapons and drugs have been seized. A total of 297 vulnerable people have been safeguarded and offered support.

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