Fixed fine for drugs suggested

STRONG evidence that the Scottish Office is poised to introduce fixed 'fiscal' fines for many cannabis possession cases comes today in a television interview with Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, the minister for health and home affairs, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

Lord Fraser has told BBC 2's Scottish Lobby programme that imposing a fixed penalty of, say, pounds 30 or pounds 45 as an alternative to prosecution would 'do a great deal to relieve the courts of some of the lesser offences - the simple possession ones where people are caught with a single joint . . . I have in mind, say, a student who takes cannabis . . . One wouldn't want to damage irreparably his employment prospects for the long term.'

Implementation of the scheme, which is still out for consultation, would, in effect, create a two-tier system, though there are arguments over which treatment would be more punitive.

Lord Fraser points out that the suggested scheme could have harsher effects than in England and Wales, where a first offence of simple possession often results in a caution.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, has sent out a very different signal with an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill to increase the maximum fine for possession of marijuana from pounds 500 to pounds 2,500. He has said he does not favour fixed penalties.

Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, has denied any split, equating fiscal fines with the use of cautions south of the border. But as Lord Fraser emphasises, cautions leave offenders with a criminal record, whereas fiscal fines will not.