Black people carrying drugs are more likely to be charged and prosecuted than white people committing the same offence, according to a study.

A report has shown that black people in the UK are stopped and searched 6.3 times more than whites in England and Wales.

According to drug law charity Release and the London School of Economics, black people are almost twice as likely to receive harsher punishments if found in possession of illegal drugs.

The study showed that 78% of black people carrying cocaine are charged, compared with 44% of white offenders. One in five black people caught with cannabis on them in London in 2009/10 are charged, compared to one in eight white people.

Black people are five times more likely to go to jail for possession than white people, the report said.

Using data from the Metropolitan Police - who undertake 50% of all stop and searches for drugs in England and Wales - black people are charged for cannabis possession at a rate of 13 times that of white people in affluent areas such as Kensington and Chelsea and seven times more frequently for cocaine.

The results revealed that in every borough in London, except for Barking and Dagenham, showed black people are more likely to be charged for possession of cocaine than white people.

In Dorest, black people are 17 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white, according to the study.

Little has changed

Niamh Eastwood, executive director of Release and co-author of the report, said: "Black people are more likely to get a criminal record than white people, are more likely to be taken to court and are more likely to be fined or imprisoned for drug offences because of the way in which they are policed, rather than because they are more likely to use drugs.

"Despite calls for police reform of stop and search little has changed in the last three decades. This is why the government needs to change the law.

"Decriminalisation of drug possession offences would end the needless stop and search of hundreds of thousands of innocent people every year and eliminate a significant source of discrimination."

Michael Shiner, co-author of the report and a senior lecturer in the Department of Social Policy at the London School of Economics, added: "It's shocking that police officers are spending so much time targeting minor drug offences rather than focusing on more serious matters.

"This is not the result of a carefully considered strategy but is the unintended consequence of reforms that have created a perverse incentive structure, rewarding officers for going after easy pickings rather than doing good police work.

"While it is hard to see any benefits in terms of tackling serious crime or promoting public safety, there are real costs, including unnecessary infringements on people's liberty, discrimination against minorities and loss of trust and confidence in the police."

A Home Office spokesman said of the study: "Stop and search is a crucial tool in the fight against crime but it must be applied fairly and in a way that builds community confidence in the police rather than undermining it.

"We want to see stop and search used only when it's needed, with better community engagement and better search-to- arrest ratios."