THE SCOTTISH Government is taking inspiration from an American city once synonymous with drugs crime with a shift away from prosecuting simple possession offences.

SNP ministers are aiming to halt the country's drug deaths crisis by treating it as a public health emergency, moving away from a ‘war on drugs’ approach, with a consensus that the strategy has not been effective.

The Scottish Government’s top law officer, Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain, has said police will be advised to issue recorded warnings for possession of any illegal substance instead of referring offenders to prosecutors.

READ MORE: 'Unacceptable': Scotland's drug death crisis flatlines with 1,330 annual fatalities in 2021

The Lord Advocate insisted that the move does “not represent decriminalisation of an offence”, but is instead a “proportionate criminal justice response”.

Ms Bain revealed to MSPs that this advice had already been offered for class B and class C drugs – but has now been extended to possession offences of all illegal substances, including heroine, crack cocaine and crystal meth.

Ms Bain said issuing a recorded police warning “provides officers with a speedy, effective and proportionate means of dealing with low level offending”.

In setting out the diversion policy, SNP Drugs Policy Minister Angela Constance, pointed to a similar strategy in US city Baltimore securing overwhelmingly positive results.

READ MORE: Dundee remains Scotland's drug deaths capital amid action call

Ms Constance pointed to the Baltimore strategy “in which they stopped prosecuting for low-level drug offences, and only six out of 1,400 diverted drug cases were involved in re-offending".

She added that Scotland has “to think big, bold and radical” in order to halt the soaring number of drug deaths.

Speaking to The Herald, she said: “What we know from Baltimore and other international evidence is that needlessly criminalising people with complex needs or multiple disadvantage doesn’t help make the situation any better – it actually makes matters worse.

“The announcement that the Lord Advocate made in and around recorded police warnings, the work we need to do to develop diversion and better treatment options and opportunities at every stage of the criminal justice system is actually crucial.

“We need to ensure that drugs policy is connected to things like mental health support and the reforms that need to take place in our justice system as well.”

READ MORE: Scotland's drug deaths in 2021 broken down in charts and maps

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that Baltimore would stop prosecuting low-level drug possession and prostitution in March 2020, mostly as a measure at the start of the pandemic.

Last year, Ms Mosby announced the policy would remain in place permanently as it emerged that violent crime had dropped by 20 per cent and property crime by 36%.

Ms Mosby has suggested that in addition to steering the police away from prosecuting future cases, authorities in Scotland should consider how to handle retrospective and pending cases.

READ MORE: How Barcelona tackled its 'epidemic' of drug overdose deaths

A report from researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Heath found that Baltimore’s no-prosecution policy led to fewer new low-level drug arrests and almost no rearrests for serious crimes for those who had charges dropped.

The findings suggest the new policy did not result in increased public complaints about drug use and that those who had charges dropped did not go on to commit serious crimes.