Only around one in 10 people caught with cannabis in Hampshire last year were charged – among the lowest rates in England and Wales.

But with charge rates much higher elsewhere, campaigners say enforcement of the law dictating cannabis use is a “postcode lottery” and have called for possession of the drug to be decriminalised altogether.

Home Office data shows that of 3,463 cannabis possession offences closed by Hampshire Constabulary last year, 353 resulted in a charge or summons.

At just 10%, that was among the lowest rates of the 43 police forces across the two nations, although that excludes a further 219 offences that had not yet been assigned an outcome.

Across England and Wales, there were 117,000 cannabis possession offences recorded in 2020 that had reached an outcome.

Of those, 17% ended in a charge – down from 21% in 2019.

The figures do not include Greater Manchester Police as it did not submit complete data.

North Wales Police recorded the highest charge rate, at 34%, while Surrey Police charged just 7% of offences.

Niamh Eastwood, executive director of drugs charity Release, said young people are disproportionately criminalised for having the drug, limiting their education and work opportunities.

“It is right that most people caught in possession are not charged and avoid the burden of a criminal record,” she added.

“That being said, the postcode lottery that exists in how this offence is treated is why we need a national approach.”

She said the Misuse of Drugs Act – which is 50 years old this month – has not succeeded in reducing drug use and called for decriminalisation of possession coupled with investment in treatment.

The most common type of outcome recorded by Hampshire Constabulary last year was an informal out of court disposal, which accounted for 2,469 offences.

These took the form of community resolutions, which could involve an apology and some form of reparation.

In 2019-20, a new outcome was introduced to reflect when an offender is sent on a diversion scheme, such as a drug awareness course or treatment.

Hampshire Constabulary recorded using this type of scheme on just one occasion last year, while across all police forces it was used around 2,300 times.

“Police on the front line recognise that the criminalisation of small-scale drug possession is expensive and counterproductive,” said Martin Powell, head of partnerships at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation.

“We also know that the enforcement of cannabis laws falls very disproportionately on people from black communities, leading to greater mistrust of the police.

“This is why forces across the country are introducing programmes to divert people away from the criminal justice system into education and support.”

Mr Powell added that some forces which use diversion schemes can record them under other categories such as community resolutions.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We have no plans to decriminalise cannabis.” – there is clear scientific and medical evidence that it is a harmful drug which can damage people’s mental and physical health, and harms individuals and communities.

“The police have a range of powers at their disposal to deal with drug-related offences in a way that is proportionate, and in the public interest.”