Cannabis users should be given on-the-spot police fines rather than a criminal record, an official government report has recommended.
The report, published yesterday by senior researcher Ben Cavanagh of the Justice Analytical Services Division of the Scottish Government, reveals that 83% of police officers and other staff interviewed called for those found with “personal amounts of cannabis” to be given a fixed penalty notice (FPN) and therefore no criminal record.
The research reveals that 22,000 police hours have been saved and more than 65,000 £40 notices handed out to low-level offenders.
However, the call to extend their use to cannabis is expected to prove far more controversial.
The study involved in-depth interviews with eight local authority community safety officers, 22 senior police and 247 frontline officers.
The aim of the scheme, launched across Scotland in 2007 following a pilot in Tayside, was to free police time and remove minor offences from courts to allow prosecutors to concentrate on more serious crimes.
The tickets take about 10-15 minutes to issue, compared with at least 45 minutes’ work to complete a prosecution report at a police station.
Offenders have 28 days to pay the £40, rising to £60 after the deadline, which can be challenged in a district court.
Those paying the fines will not get a criminal record but the information will be retained for two years. Those with two tickets who are caught a third time in a six month-period will be reported to the procurator-fiscal.
Some 94% the fines issued were for breach of the peace, drinking in public and urinating/defecating in public. Just 0.5% of fines were challenged and some 69% paid with “variations in the payment rates among court areas”.
The report states: “Consideration should be given to the expansion of the FPN scheme to include other offences such as possession of personal amounts of cannabis, minor theft and minor assault.”
Bill Aitken, the Tory justice spokesman, said: “These measures are a step too far. Fixed penalties were meant for minor offences but now we have assaults and drug possession being treated as if they were parking offences.”
Minister for Community Safety Fergus Ewing said: “This report shows that the increased use of fixed penalty notices for low-level offences is freeing up almost 22,000 hours of police officers’ time across Scotland, time that they can spend tackling crime in our communities rather than form filling.
“This is swift and visible justice for those who commit acts of antisocial behaviour in our communities and hits them in their pockets.”
Richard Baker, the Labour justice spokesman, said: “The SNP are soft on crime and there is great concern over their failure to tackle offending.
“There will be concern at extending fixed penalty
notices to cover offences such as minor assault, particularly as under the SNP so few of these fines are actually being paid.
“That doesn’t send out the right message on offending and it does not serve victims of crime.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We intend to consult key partners and stakeholders on any proposals to change the list of offences for which fixed penalty notices can be issued. Once we have considered their responses we will make any decisions on any changes to the list of offences for which FPN’s can be issued.”
Meanwhile, NHS Tayside and Tayside Police have warned people against taking mephedrone, otherwise known as “bubbles”, after five people overdosed on the drug last weekend.
All five are recovering but were hospitalised after taking the drug, which is currently not controlled.
It follows recent warnings from police about people taking “legal highs” without knowing anything about their contents.
– Article from Herald Scotland on November 26, 2009.