By  and Chaminda Jayanetti for The Guardian. The number of cannabis possession offences in England and Wales has plummeted since 2011 as forces divert shrinking budgets into tackling more serious crime and officers rein in stop and search.

Figures released to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act reveal offences recorded by English and Welsh police forces – including penalty notices, cautions, charges and summons – fell by almost a third from a peak of 145,400 in 2011-12 to 101,905 in 2014-15.

Crucially, the figures include all cannabis possession offences, not just those that led to arrests or prosecutions. The fall in offences cannot therefore be explained by police opting for quick cautions over lengthy prosecutions.

What the figures reveal is a silent relaxation of drugs policy in the last five years – and will spark fresh debate about whether there is a case to decriminalise cannabis possession.

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