Scotland’s prosecuting authorities has moved to relax penalties for possession of drugs (Picture: PA, Getty)
The leader of the Labour Party has thrown his support behind a move to relax penalties for people caught with Class A drugs in Scotland.
Police north of the border are now being encouraged to hand out warnings for possession of the most tightly-controlled substances, such as heroin, cocaine and ecstasy.
The decision, announced on Wednesday by Scotland’s Lord Advocate – the equivalent of the head of England and Wales’ Crown Prosecution Service – came as a surprise to the devolved government.
Dorothy Bain QC said the ‘diversion from prosecution’ is to be applied in cases of individual use only, while those caught supplying drugs will still face criminal charges.
Keir Starmer said the decision was ‘probably the right thing to do’, telling ITV: ‘It’s an independent decision that has been made.’
But he added there is a ‘world of difference’ between the reform and ‘ripping up’ drug laws entirely.
The Conservatives said the move amounts to ‘de facto decriminalisation’ and would not help reduce drug harms.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said Sir Keir’s comments show Labour is ‘weak on crime and weak on the causes of crime’.
Ms Bain said the move ‘does not represent decriminalisation of an offence’ and there is ‘no one size fits all’ response to drug addiction, adding that cases should be judged individually.
It remains unclear how possession of controlled substances alone can still lead to criminal charges unless individual police forces ignore the Lord Advocate’s guidance.
Under current laws, officers can already exercise discretion to issue warnings to those caught with Class B and C drugs, such as ketamine and cannabis.
Scotland’s drug minister Angela Constance hailed the move as a ‘smart use of the law’ and a ‘very significant’ tool in tackling drug deaths.
A record 1,339 people in Scotland died from drug-related complications in 2020.
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