21 September, 2021
Tackling Cannabis Use in Residential Properties Roundtable Event
On Wednesday 15th September 2021, almost 650 delegates from Housing, Police, Local Authorities and other agencies across the UK attended a roundtable discussion to explore a range of approaches for responding to the issue of cannabis smoking in residential properties. The significant number of attendees present clearly highlighted the importance of this subject, the complexities involved and the impact it has upon housing practitioner caseloads.
As a starting point, we heard from Inspector John Toothill of West Yorkshire Police who offered some context as to how reports of cannabis smoking are dealt with against other policing priorities such as burglary and sexual assault. This focused upon the availability of resources, determining what's in the public interest and the likelihood of securing a conviction.
This reality check of the current situation places an even greater emphasis upon the need for effective partnership working, innovation and non-legal intervention. All of this must be addressed on an individual, case-by-case basis as part of a harm-centred approach.
Craig Kendall (ASB Team Leader at Hyde Housing Group) and Jim Nixon (ASB Manager at Stoke City Council) were able to share some of the challenges that they have encountered when dealing with complaints of cannabis smoking and the proportionality of potential tenancy enforcement action.
The ability to use Community Protection Notices / Warnings can differ from region to region however, Jim was able to share examples of best practice in Stoke where this tool has been used successfully to resolve complaints by focusing on the nuisance caused by "odorous smells" as opposed to evidencing the specific smell of cannabis.
A range of support options were explored including the use of advocacy services and mediation. The increased use of cannabis in respect of medical conditions is becoming a key factor in how we approach our case management investigations. In order to achieve a workable solution under these circumstances it vital that we obtain evidence of the customer's medical needs. This includes the issuing of "Can-Cards".
Kirsty Varley from Forbes Solicitors was on hand to provide legal advice on how best to proceed once the threshold has been reached and all other preventative options have been exhausted.
In some areas, reports of cannabis reporting are overtaking noise nuisance as the number one ASB case type so this issue certainly isn't going away. As a sector, we have a great track record for sharing best practice so we would be really interested to learn more about how your organisation is currently dealing with this issue.
The following case management tips and guidance were shared by our panel members:
Deciding on how best to deal with a report of cannabis smoking has to involve a harm centred approach. In some cases, it may not be appropriate for ASB action to be taken, simply because it would not be proportionate, but where there are aggravating factors, such as the smoke exasperating a neighbour's health condition, then action may be required.
Because of this case-by-case approach, managing expectations of residents and partners is incredibly important. Whilst it may be a tenancy breach, there has to be some realism about when action is going to be necessary and proportionate.
There can be 2 elements to cannabis smoking: the fact that it is a criminal offence and the nuisance that the smoking might be having. It doesn't not necessary follow, therefore, that if the police don't take action to address the offence, practitioners cannot consider the ASB tools.
Cannabis smoking does not always need to be professionally witnessed. With many of the toolkit requiring evidence to the balance of probabilities, it is likely that this threshold can be met from officers or residents explaining how they know it to be cannabis. Equally, if it is the smoke that is causing the nuisance, then it becomes less relevant the specific cause of this smoke e.g. Cannabis, tobacco, vapes etc. It is the smoke causing the nuisance rather than the specific substance.
In this respect, consider how you word interventions like Community Protection Warnings - is it better to keep the condition general (e.g. to not allowing noxious smells to seep into neighbouring properties), rather than being specific around the source of the smell, which may be harder to evidence.
Don't forget the full toolkit, including mediation and acceptable behaviour contracts.
Where legal action does become necessary, make sure you evidence proportionality through impact statements and assessments. You will need to convince a Court that is proportionate to grant an order, when the behaviour may seem lower level. Showing impact on others, your attempts to intervene with non-legal tools, the support you have tried to put in place etc, will go a long way to showing proportionality.
Where the perpetrator does state they have medical permission, evidence of this should be requested. If evidence is forthcoming, don't forget that it gives the person permission to use cannabis, not to cause a nuisance whilst they do so!
Trying to get support in place for the perpetrator should always be considered
Reflect on your ASB policy and ensure it supports a harm centred approach to deciding action in ASB cases. A well-worded policy will help officers to have difficult conversations with residents, when managing expectations about the limitations of what is possible, as it helps the resident to understand why.
Another issue we are focusing on is the role of Housing when tackling organised crime in our communities. We have recently teamed up with colleagues in Ireland to explore this on a wider scale and a joint webinar will take place on Wednesday 17th November 2021. Janine will be one the guest speakers and a link can be found here.
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