Soft-touch warningsDaily ‘fuel cannabis abuse’
Expert fears scheme just designed to save court time
A UNITED Nations consultant has warned soft-touch police warnings for drug possession are likely to fuel cannabis abuse.
Dr Ian Oliver, a former chief constable at Grampian police, called for mandatory education about the dangers of drugs for those who escape prosecution and said the warnings may be part of wider moves to legalise cannabis possession.
The world-renowned drugs expert added that this could be driven by a growing belief among police and the medical profession that ‘recreational use is all right’. The Mail revealed this month that more than 30,000 Recorded Police Warnings (RPWs) have been handed out to criminals, including thugs and drug users, since January 2016 – and nearly 6,000 of those were issued for possession of cannabis.
Offenders avoid a full criminal record as a result of the RPWs issued by officers for supposedly ‘minor’ offences.
Scottish Tory justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: ‘Dr Oliver is a leading consultant in his field and has first-hand experience of frontline policing in Scotland.
‘His warning echoes what we have been saying for some time now about the SNP’s soft-touch approach to justice. Far from acting as a deterrent, these warnings could encourage criminals to abuse socalled soft drugs like cannabis.’
Dr Oliver said the high number of RPWs for cannabis possession would ‘probably’ increase abuse of the drug and voiced fears that it was ‘just a way of keeping court appearances down’. He said the only way to make the warning system work would be to back it up with classes about the risks of taking drugs.
Dr Oliver said ‘car drivers are sometimes offered courses to remedy what is perceived to be poor driving’, so it ‘should also be possible to offer some accurate training about the effects of drugs to those whose conduct is not highly criminal, but [who] would benefit from learning the hard facts’.
He claimed many professionals – including teachers, social workers, nurses and police – took the view that ‘recreational drug use is all right’, and criticised Prince William for claiming recently that drug legalisation should be discussed.
He said: ‘The contagion of drug legalisation is widespread and is not helped, with respect, by a future King asking drug users their opinion about legalising drugs, when he should have been well enough briefed to know that this should not be considered, and should have been aware about the message of possible acceptability he was sending.’
Police and prosecutors have repeatedly refused to disclose the crimes for which RPWs are imposed – in case it encourages more people to break the law.
But after a series of requests under freedom of information legislation, police chiefs admitted that 5,827 RPWs had been issued for cannabis possession in 2016-17 – about one in five of all drug possession charges.
The Scottish Government insists that ‘RPWs provide a proportionate, formal way of dealing with low-level offences which commonly do not result in court action and will still appear on records for two years’.
Superintendent Athol Aitken said RPWs are a ‘proportionate tool available to officers to deal with a wide range of low-level offences’.
He added: ‘The scheme allows officers, in appropriate circumstances, to use their discretion to effectively deal with low-level offending behaviour at a very early stage.
‘This includes where someone is found to be in possession of a very small amount of cannabis.’ But he added: ‘Anyone found possessing drugs stands a far greater chance of being charged and reported than being issued with a warning.’
Urged caution: Dr Ian Oliver