The SNP is the latest political party to publish its manifesto, which repeats the party’s call for drug policy to be devolved so that the Scottish Government can ‘take all the steps needed’ to tackle drug-related deaths and harm – including the piloting of consumption rooms.
The country’s record high levels of drug-related fatalities are a ‘public health emergency’, says Stronger for Scotland, adding that a fresh approach is ‘desperately’ needed. ‘The Tories have displayed a shocking lack of empathy towards people struggling with addiction,’ it states. ‘If the UK government refuses to act then they must devolve the powers to Scotland so that we can step in and help to save lives.’
The Conservative party manifesto, Get Brexit done: unleash Britain’s potential, although short on detail takes a more criminal justice driven approach than the other main parties. The paragraph covering drug treatment states: ‘Drug addiction fuels crime, violence and family breakdown – and new dangerous substances are driving an increase in deaths from drug abuse. We will tackle drug-related crime, and at the same time take a new approach to treatment so we can reduce drug deaths and break the cycle of crime linked to addiction.’
The one criminal justice approach specified is the use of ‘sobriety tags’ for offences relating to alcohol misuse, with the manifesto saying ‘we will expand electronic tagging for criminals serving time outside jail, including the use of sobriety tags for those whose offending is fuelled by alcohol.’
The manifesto also pledged to review The Gambling Act which the party says is increasingly becoming an analogue law in a digital age.
A Labour government would establish a Royal Commission to ‘develop a public health approach to substance misuse’, says its manifesto, It’s time for real change. This would focus on harm reduction rather than criminalisation, the document states.
The party would also address drug-related deaths, alcohol-related health problems and the adverse impacts of gambling as matters of public health, it continues, and treat them ‘accordingly’ – including expanded addiction support services. Alcohol labels would include clear health warnings, and the evidence around minimum pricing would be reviewed. The party would also implement a ‘tobacco control plan’ and fund smoking cessation services.
The Liberal Democrat manifesto goes further and states that the party would ‘reform access to cannabis’ via a regulated UK market. This would include a ‘robust’ approach to licensing, based on evidence from regulated markets in Canada and the US. Regulation would include limits on potency levels and only allow the drug to be sold through licensed outlets to people over 18. ‘The prohibitionist attitude to drug use of both Labour and Conservative governments over decades has been driven by fear rather than evidence, and has failed to tackle the social and medical problems that misuse of drugs can cause to individuals and their communities,’ says Stop Brexit and build a brighter future. ‘Liberal Democrats will take a different approach.’
Anyone arrested for possession of drugs for personal use would be diverted into treatment, the document continues, with the imposition of civil penalties rather than imprisonment, and – ‘crucially’ – there would be more investment in addiction services. The departmental lead on drugs policy would also be moved to the Department of Health and Social Care, and the party would introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol.
Plaid Cymru’s manifesto, Wales, it’s us, commits to implementing a ‘long-term substance use harm reduction strategy’, which would include both services and education and focus on treating people who use drugs as ‘patients rather than criminals’.
This would help to reduce drug-related deaths, while the ‘current hardline approach’ simply serves to criminalise people who ‘do no harms to others’. The party would establish a national commission to look at reforming the country’s drug laws, it states.
The Green Party’s manifesto, If not now, when? commits to ending the ‘war on drugs, which has trapped hundreds of thousands of people into lives of crime’, and treating drug problems as a health condition. ‘The Green Party recognises that people have always and will always use drugs, including alcohol,’ it says. ‘Seeking to prevent drug use is demonstrably futile; we need a radically new system grounded in harm reduction.’
The party would repeal both the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Psychoactive Substances Act, and pardon – and expunge the criminal records of – anyone convicted for possession or small-scale supply. The current prohibition system would be replaced with an ‘evidence-based, legalised, regulated’ system of drug control, with production, importation and supply regulated according to specific risks to individuals, society and the environment. Heroin would be made available on prescription following a medical assessment, and safe injection facilities would also be established.
Commercial advertising for all drugs – including alcohol – would be banned, and minimum unit pricing would be introduced. The party would also set up a new statutory body, the Advisory Council for Drug Safety, to monitor patterns of drug use and advise on sourcing ‘socially and ecologically sustainable supplies of opium and coca from the Global South’.
The Brexit Party’s Contract with the people, meanwhile, includes a pledge to ‘target the menace of county lines drug dealers, gangs and the growth of knife crime’.