Drug deaths Scotland: What are the hurdles for the Scottish Government in opening a drugs consumption room? How would it happen?
Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain KC, has said it would “not be in the public interest to prosecute drug users for simple possession offences committed within a pilot safer drugs consumption facility”.
Her comments come in the wake of increasing calls for a safer drugs consumption facility to be established in Glasgow. However, the Home Office immediately objected to the idea, saying “we have no plans to consider this”.
Ms Bain’s judgement has cleared the first major hurdle for the project, allowing the Scottish Government to now work with the Glasgow Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) to take forward the project.
The Glasgow City Integration Joint Board – a partnership of the council and local health officials – is due to meet on September 27, where it could order work to begin on setting up safe consumption rooms.
The idea is to now create a pilot project in Glasgow, which will provide learnings for Scotland, the wider UK and the rest of the world.
Drugs law is reserved to the UK Government, but Scotland has some leeway in setting its own prosecution rules.
However, First Minister Humza Yousaf has warned the scale of a pilot would be limited without full Westminster approval – the granting of which constitutes another major hurdle for the Scottish Government.
Speaking during a visit to Stirling, he said: “I welcome this statement that it is not in the public interest to prosecute for simple possession offences in the pilot for safe drug consumption rooms.
“My understanding is we can now move forward with this pilot on the basis of this statement from the Lord Advocate. But there are still some limitations, so it is important we continue to engage with the UK Government and get them to reconsider their ideological objections to giving approval for the pilot.
“I hope they reconsider or give us the power, so we can give this the full approval.”
The First Minister also hinted the pilot could be blocked altogether by Westminster. Mr Yousaf said: “I know there have been a number of issues where they have stepped in and blocked policy, but I really urge them not to do that with something with this level of criticality. We are talking about saving lives in one of the most vulnerable groups in society.”
Scottish secretary Alister Jack has previously blocked gender reform legislation passed in Scotland using a section 35 order, which will be challenged in court next week, while the planned deposit return scheme was also delayed amid UK Government opposition.
Police Scotland’s Assistant Chief Constable, Gary Ritchie, said: “It is important to note that existing legislation will not be changing and, while we may take an overall supportive policing approach, police officers will still be bound by their legal duty to uphold the law and will not be able to simply ignore acts of criminality which they see occurring.”
However, figures published on Tuesday showing suspected drug deaths had risen in the first six months of this year compared to the same period in 2022 are expected to provide extra impetus to press ahead with plans for the UK’s first consumption room.
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