Possession of class A drugs effectively decriminalised in Scotland

Possession of class A drugs effectively decriminalised in Scotland

Dorothy Bain QC

Possession of class A drugs such as heroin, cocaine and MDMA may incur a police warning rather than prosecution under a new “diversion from prosecution” policy for drugs announced by Scotland’s Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain QC.

In a statement, Ms Bain said: “I have decided that an extension of the recorded police warning guidelines to include possession offences for Class A drugs is appropriate. Police officers may therefore choose to issue a recorded police warning for simple possession offences for all classes of drugs.”

The scheme does not apply to drug supply offences, which will continue to be prosecuted. Moreover, Ms Bain said that “recorded police warnings do not represent decriminalisation of an offence”, but “a proportionate criminal justice response to a level of offending and are an enforcement of the law”.

Despite the new policy, police will retain the ability to report cases of possession to the procurator fiscal and accused persons may still reject the offer of a warning.

Diversion entails referring a case to social work or another agency “as a means of addressing the underlying causes of offending when this is deemed the most appropriate course of action”, Ms Bain added.

“At the conclusion of the diversion program, the results are reported to the prosecutor. Where the program has been successfully completed, the prosecutor will routinely decide that no further action is required and that is the end of the matter.”

She added: “The most appropriate response – the smartest response – in any drugs case, must be tailored to the facts and circumstances of both the alleged offence and the offender. Scotland’s police and prosecutors are using the powers available to them to both uphold the law and help tackle the drug death emergency.”

Solicitor Iain Smith, of West Lothian-based Keegan Smith Defence Lawyers, told our sister publication Scottish Legal News: “The Lord Advocate’s decision is a brilliant and bold move. She will be open to criticism from those who don’t understand why addiction occurs.”

He added: “For 50 years we have stigmatised and labelled those addicted to drugs as ‘junkies’. What we know now and didn’t know then is that most people addicted to drugs or alcohol are people who struggle to cope. Often this stems from childhood trauma, including sexual abuse and neglect.

“I’ve never had any ‘happy’ clients who are addicted to painkilling drugs like heroin. When we realise and understand what happens to people then the response should be one of compassion not retribution. We cannot punish people into a better way of being but we can offer help, empathy and hope.”

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