Drug Law Reform proposals ‘to stop people dying’

SNP government calls for decriminalisation for personal supply  

By Bill Heaney

Decriminalisation of all drugs for personal supply is one of a number of polices which the Scottish Government is calling on the UK Government to implement in a new paper on drug law reform.

The move would allow people found in possession of drugs to be treated and supported rather than criminalised and excluded. Decriminalisation would also mean that without a criminal record, people in recovery would have a better chance of employment.

The document has been published by the Scottish Government outlining measures which could be implemented through further devolution, independence, or changes enacted immediately by the UK Government to support the work being done within existing powers to reduce drug deaths.

Among the proposals are:

  • Decriminalisation of all drugs for personal supply progressed as part of a wider review of drug laws
  • Immediate legislative changes to allow us to fully and properly implement harm reduction measures such as supervised drug consumption facilities (rather than the current proposal being explored which is constrained by having to work within existing legislation), drug checking and increased access to the life saving drug naloxone.
  • a road map for further exploration of drug law reform, focused on evidence and the reduction of harm, including an update of the drug classification system to be based on harms caused

The proposals follow recommendations made by the Drug Deaths Taskforce in September 2021.

Minister for Drugs Policy Elena Whitham said: “These are ambitious and radical proposals, grounded in evidence, that will help save lives.

“We want to create a society where problematic drug use is treated as a health, not a criminal matter, reducing stigma and discrimination and enabling the person to recover and contribute positively to society. While we know these proposals will spark debate, they are in line with our public health approach and would further our national mission to improve and save lives.

“We are working hard within the powers we have to reduce drug deaths, and while there is more we need to do, our approach is simply at odds with the Westminster legislation we must operate within.

“These policies could be implemented by the Scottish Government through the devolution of further, specific powers to Holyrood including the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 – or through independence. An immediate way for these policies to be enacted would be for the UK Government to use its existing powers to change its drug laws.

“Scotland needs a caring, compassionate and human rights informed drugs policy, with public health and the reduction of harm as its underlying principles, and we are ready to work with the UK Government to put into practice this progressive policy.”

Responding to the Scottish Government’s drug law reform proposals, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton, right,  said:  “Scottish Liberal Democrats have been calling for the decriminalisation of drug misuse for years.

“We have set out clear plans to get people into treatment instead of prison, for drug testing facilities and for a network of safe consumption spaces. It is well established that the Scottish Government has not been maximizing the powers it has to stop people dying.

“Scotland has a drugs death rate three times that of anywhere else in the UK or in Europe. If this were all about where different powers lie, Glasgow would not have a drugs death rate ten times higher than London. Nicola Sturgeon acknowledged she took her eye off the ball, tens of millions were cut from essential services and the SNP Justice Secretary at the time of the independence referendum admitted they chose to look away.

“Scotland has a particularly problematic relationship with drug misuse. That is not a product of a deficiency of devolution, but if tailoring a particularly Scottish solution might require the extension of powers on drug policy then I am open to that discussion.

“If the Scottish Government is at last serious about reform, this will take detailed work both here in Scotland and in partnership with colleagues across the UK and beyond. I would hate for meaningful progress to be locked behind years of wrangling over where powers sit.

Drugs policy spokesperson Ben Lawrie added: “On issues like same day access to treatment, the Scottish Government are woefully behind the curve. It is clear that services and staff need much more support.  

“From rehab spaces to support for families, there are pressing areas where action is needed. This is an urgent public health crisis and ministers need to act like it.”


One comment

  1. Drug use is ubiquitous throughout every level of society.

    The war against drugs should not be that of prosecuting personal misue. The war instead should be against criminality.

    Many in this area have died not just because of misuse but because of contaminated supplies of things like street benzos.

    Sturgeon took her eye off the ball long time back. Our drug problem is immense. Let us hope we are now getting our eye back in.

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