Police in two Scottish police districts have begun a pilot program where people caught in possession of small amounts of marijuana are given warnings instead of being arrested and prosecuted. Police reported already issuing 23 warnings in the West Lothian area. The other district where the program is underway is Fife, where some 40 warnings had already been issued.
The newspaper The Scotsman quoted a spokesman for the Lothian and Borders police as saying, "West Lothian is the only division where they use adult warnings. There is a pilot project agreed with procurators fiscal."
After Scottish police were criticized by some anti-drug campaigners for "sending the wrong message," the Association of Chief Police Officers, the grouping of Britain's top cops, moved to assure the nervous that police weren't going soft. "The police service in Scotland continues to take a robust stance on anybody caught in possession of drugs. The projects in place in Fife and Lothian and Borders are in agreement with local procurators fiscal and in the spirit of the criminal justice reform process," the group said.
The pilot program comes on the heels of a decision by all Scottish police forces to move to warnings instead of arrests for a variety of minor offenses -- such as public urination or low-level disturbing the peace -- for first-time offenders. The moves are part of an effort to reduce the burden of a heavy caseload on courts and prosecutors.
But Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell is grumbling. While telling reporters he would not dictate to police or prosecutors, he added that he was "very keen" that people with pot be prosecuted. "Cannabis is illegal and nobody in Scotland should ever get the impression otherwise," he said.