Police officers will be given the power to hand out warnings to anyone in possession of drugs rather than seeking prosecution, the Lord Advocate has announced.
Dorothy Bain QC announced in Holyrood on Wednesday that a scheme whereby Police Scotland officers can give those in possession of Class B or Class C drugs an official warning would be extended to include Class A substances.
But the move, which has been called “de facto de-criminalisation” by the Scottish Tories, remains dependent on the discretion of individual officers and could still see those in possession of drugs prosecuted.
The change came following a review ordered by previous lord advocate James Wolffe QC.
Speaking in her first parliamentary appearance since taking the role, Ms Bain said: “I have considered the review and 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.”
But the Lord Advocate added: “In confirming the extension, I wish to make four things clear.
“Firstly, the scheme extends to possession offences only. The scheme does not extend to drug supply offences. Robust prosecutorial action will continue to be taken in relation to the supply of controlled drugs.
“Secondly, Recorded Police Warnings do not represent decriminalisation of an offence. Recorded Police Warnings represent a proportionate criminal justice response to a level of offending and are an enforcement of the law.
“Thirdly, neither offering nor accepting a Recorded Police Warning is mandatory. Police officers retain the ability to report appropriate cases to the Procurator Fiscal. Accused persons retain the right to reject the offer of a warning.
“Finally, neither offering a Recorded Police Warning nor reporting a case to the Procurator Fiscal prevents an officer referring a vulnerable person to support services.”
The change was made to help address the drugs death crisis gripping Scotland, which saw 1,339 people die from drugs in 2020.
But Scottish Tory MSP Jamie Greene said it would not help to address the needs of drug users.
“Scotland’s drug deaths crisis is our national shame, but surely the way to tackle it is by improving access to treatment and rehabilitation,” he said.
“Not to dilute how seriously we treat the possession of Class A drugs, deadly drugs, like heroin, crystal meth and crack cocaine – the scourges of our streets and the scourges of our society.
“The answer to our drug deaths crisis is treatment, not de facto de-criminalisation by the back door, as is the case today.”
Ms Bain rejected the assertion that the move was akin to drug de-criminalisation.
Labour MSP Clare Baker welcomed the change, and asked if the announcement would help with the establishment of safe consumption rooms – which would allow drug users a place to go to take drugs and potentially even supply them with substances.
The Lord Advocate said the change to the guidance was “entirely different” to the proposed safe consumption rooms, which would require a waiver from the UK Government to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to ensure users and staff were not criminalised.