The Scottish Government is to push forward with plans to establish a safe drugs consumption room after Scotland’s Lord Advocate said it would “not be in the public interest” to prosecute people for possession of illegal substances in such an environment.

Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) are to seek aproval for a safe drug consumption facility in the city, following the removal of the threat of prosecution for its users.

The decison puts Holyrood on a colision course with UK Government, as the Home Office continues to oppose the relaxation of drug laws around 'injecting rooms'..

A spokeswoman said there remained "no plans" to consider safe consumption spaces.

Dorothy Bain KC, who is Scotland’s most senior prosecutor, had been asked to look at a detailed proposal for a pilot developed by Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) and Police Scotland, facilitated by the Scottish Government.

The Lord Advocate stressed she had not been asked to “sign off or approve” such a facility.

But she added: “On the basis of the information I have been provided, I would be prepared to publish a prosecution policy that 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 came after cross-party MPs in Westminster’s Home Affairs Committee backed the establishment of a safe consumption room in Glasgow.

This could allow those struggling with addiction to safely take drugs under supervision from medical professionals, who could intervene in the event of an overdose.

The Scottish Government has repeatedly called for Holyrood to be given the powers to set up a pilot project as part of its efforts to tackle drugs deaths north of the border, where the rate is the highest in Europe.

READ MORE: Yousaf and Sturgeon in drug call to Home Secretary

However, the UK Government has consistently rejected pleas for such a facility, with a Home Office spokeswoman saying: “There is no safe way to take illegal drugs, which devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities, and we have no plans to consider this.”

The spokeswoman said that discussions with the Scottish Government were ongoing.

In its latest guidance, the Home Office states that 'a range of crimes' would be committed in the course of running a safe drug consumption room, by both service users and staff.

The guidance adds: "While the legal framework on the misuse of drugs is reserved to the UK, the Scottish Government has devolved responsibility for delivering drug-related interventions in healthcare, criminal justice, housing and education, which must all comply with UK-wide drugs legislation."

How this will be resolved in practice remains to be seen, as the threat of prosecution for posession of drugs in such a facility has now been lifted.  

Ms Bain said: “I have not been asked to sign off or approve any facility and it would not be appropriate for me to do so.

“However, prosecution policy is for me alone to set and this policy, and the consequences which flow from it, have been considered deeply and thoroughly."

The Herald:

Her statement that prosecution would not be in the public interest “will not extend to any criminal offences other than possession of controlled substances”, the Lord Advocate added, making clear “it does not amount to an exclusion zone whereby a range of criminality is tolerated”.

She added: “Police Scotland have operational independence and it has been of the utmost importance to me to ensure that Police Scotland retain the ability to effectively police the facility and ensure that the wider community, those operating the site and those using the facility can be kept safe.”

The Lord Advocate’s statement comes after figures from the National Records of Scotland (NRS) showed there were a total of 1,051 deaths due to drug misuse in Scotland in 2022.

While this is down by 279 from the previous year, the NRS report made clear the rate of deaths is still “much higher” than it was when recording the data began in 1996.

READ MORE: Yousaf calls for 'genuine discussion' with UK over drug facilities

With a rate of 19.8 drug misuse deaths for every 100,000 people  in 2022, it has the highest drug death rate in Europe.

The statement has been greeted with enthusiasm by the Scottish Government's Drugs and Alcohol Policy Minister Elena Whitham, who said: "I welcome the position the Lord Advocate has taken.

“Glasgow authorities may now progress their proposal to set up a facility which can operate within the existing legal framework. While the service would still be limited to some extent, due to the reserved Misuse of Drugs Act, we are confident it would save lives.

“This is not a silver bullet. But we know from evidence from more than 100 facilities worldwide that Safer Drug Consumption Facilities work. It is now time to see this approach piloted in Scotland."

Ms Whitham added: “It’s vital this pilot has the full confidence of the general public as well as those who use the facility, and the leadership of Glasgow and Police Scotland will help ensure it is introduced as quickly as possible.

“Through our £250 million National Mission, we are doing everything within our powers to tackle drug deaths in Scotland. However, the number of deaths is still too high and we must use every means at our disposal as we face future challenges, including the increasing threat from synthetic opioids.”

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The facility will save lives, it has been claimed 

Assistant Chief Constable Gary Ritchie, of Police Scotland said: “Police Scotland is committed to working in partnership to reduce the harm associated with problematic substance use and addiction.

“Our approach to any initiative aimed at tackling these harms will be to establish how best policing can support it within the confines of the law.

“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.” 

Susanne Millar, Chief Officer for Glasgow’s Health and Social Care Partnership, added: “We welcome the position from the Lord Advocate and the positive response on plans for a Safer Drug Consumption Facility to operate in Glasgow. 

"A large body of evidence already exists from around the world which demonstrates that Safer Drug Consumption Facilities can save lives, as well as reducing the spread of blood-borne viruses and cutting levels of publically discarded injecting equipment.”

Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “This is a welcome intervention from the Lord Advocate that will help lay the groundwork for the establishment of a safe consumption room in Glasgow.

“Scotland’s drug death crisis is a matter of national shame and Scottish Labour believes that drug consumption rooms will help to tackle the number of fatalities and keep people safe."

The Herald: Douglas Ross

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “Today’s statement from the Lord Advocate confirms that the SNP Government are able to proceed with a drugs-consumption room pilot should they wish.

“We still have significant reservations about the effectiveness of consumption rooms, but the SNP now have no excuses not to take this action that they have been demanding for so long.

“Scotland has by far the highest drugs-death rate in Europe and this national emergency has spiralled out of control under the SNP."

He added: “The Scottish Conservatives are happy for a variety of potential solutions to be looked at, even though we don’t think consumption rooms are the silver bullet ministers believe them to be.

“I would urge the SNP to back the Right to Recovery Bill, which focuses on treatment and rehab, and has the backing of experts in the field of addiction and those with lived experience.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “There is no safe way to take illegal drugs, which devastate lives, ruin families and damage communities and we have no plans to consider this. 

“We continue to share learnings from Project ADDER with the Scottish Government and exchange insights from initiatives aimed at addressing drug use. We welcome these ongoing discussions.”