The orginal article was published in the National Newspaper
THE Lord Advocate for Scotland has declined to issue legal guidelines on whether the pilot drug consumption initiative in Glasgow is legally possible under Scottish law. Instead he states that it rests on the health department to decide whether they are in the public interest.
The problem is that drug possession is a criminal offence, and the police have a duty to arrest anyone suspected of it. The proposed drug consumption rooms would have allowed individuals to bring their own illegally bought drugs, predominantly heroin, on to the premises and consume them, and that would put the police in a difficult position.
They can informally agree a policy of non-policing the site, but what happens if there are complaints, or deaths from contaminated drugs? How are they expected to police it? Who takes responsibility?
A Lord Advocate’s Reference would have created clear guidelines on policing and spread the responsibility between the Crown, Police Scotland and the local authority in Glasgow.
Drug use is of course a health issue, but as long as use, possession, sale and supply remain criminal activities they cannot be separated from justice, and responses must combine both health and justice departments.
The Lord Advocate did not rule out drug consumption rooms, so I like to think that he punted it back to health because in principle he supports these new initiatives – that’s why he advocates for the legal route of prescribed heroin which was devolved to the Scottish Parliament in the Scotland Act 2012.
Giving legal guidance on whether or not it is within the scope and remit of the Scottish Parliament to effectively decriminalise Class A drugs would be a lot more complex. It is easier for him to put the pressure back on to health because it was the Government’s decision to move drugs to health.
However, the Scottish Government cannot pass any legislation that contradicts a UK law (in this case the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971), and there is only so far the law can stretch, depending on the imagination of the interpreter.
We appear to be at an impasse … nobody will take responsibility, again. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Independent Working Group on Drug Consumption Rooms explored their legality and said that, while legislative changes would provide a very safe basis for a UK pilot, they were not persuaded that this would be necessary.
Pilot drug consumption rooms could be set up with clear and stringent rules and procedures shared with – and agreed by – the local police (and crime and disorder partnerships), the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), health authorities and the local authority.
The decision by the Lord Advocate to not issue guidance means that implementation will have to be done through collaboration and trust among the Crown Office, Police Scotland and the Scottish Government, as opposed to statutory and legal measures. In the absence of clear legal guidelines it is likely the buck will continue to get passed, and in the meantime people are dying.