By The Economist. “THE breakfast of champions”, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones once said, of cocaine and heroin speedballs. The government disagreed, and in 1971 passed the Misuse of Drugs Act. Mr Richards’ breakfast ingredients were labelled class A; classes B and C were for milder fare. Police are supposed to treat users of class A drugs the harshest: “a prosecution is usual” for those caught in possession, say Crown Prosecution Service guidelines, whereas those found with class Bs and Cs must usually possess more than a “minimal quantity” to be taken to court.

In recent years the opposite seems to have been happening. According to an analysis of Ministry of Justice data by Release, a drugs charity, police are more likely to prosecute those they arrest with class B and C drugs, and let those arrested with class As off with a caution (see chart). Why are those arrested with what are notionally the mildest drugs the most likely to end up in court?

One reason, Release suggests, is that police may discriminate against people further down the social scale. The most commonly seized class B drug is cannabis, popular among students, the unemployed and the poor. Class A drugs such as cocaine, by contrast, have a following among bankers, journalists and politicians, whom officers may decide to wave on.

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