The Scottish Government has published a new paper on drug law reform that calls on the UK government to implement decriminalisation ‘of all drugs for personal supply’.
The document’s other proposals include immediate legislative changes to allow full implementation of harm reduction measures like consumption rooms and drug checking, and a ‘roadmap for further exploration of drug law reform’. The proposals follow recommendations made by the Drug Deaths Taskforce in 2021, the Scottish Government says.
Decriminalising personal possession would ‘allow people found in possession of drugs to be treated and supported rather than criminalised and excluded’, as well as giving them a better chance of employment. The criminal justice approach, meanwhile, is ‘not just an obstacle to people’s recovery but is also less effective than a more public health focussed approach at encouraging positive behaviour change’, the document states. Scotland’s attempts to introduce consumption rooms have previously been blocked by Westminster.
‘These are ambitious and radical proposals, grounded in evidence, that will help save lives,’ said drugs policy minister Elena Whitham. ‘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.’
The policies could be implemented by the Scottish Government either through the devolution of further powers – including the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act – to Holyrood, or through independence, she added. ‘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.’
In 2021 there were 1,330 drug misuse deaths registered in Scotland, a fractional decrease on the previous year but still the second highest ever recorded. The country has consistently had the highest drug-related death rate in Europe, and in 2021 then-first minister Nicola Sturgeon stated that her government ‘took our eye off the ball’ when it came to addressing the issue.
A coalition of charities and organisations including SDF, Release, Transform, Cranstoun, IDPC,HRI, Youth Rise and INPUD have signed a statement of support for the paper, with Release calling it ‘a groundbreaking document’.
All four nations of the UK are in the middle of a public health crisis, with drug-related deaths at an all-time high in all countries,’ said Release executive director Niamh Eastwood. ‘The Scottish Government should be applauded for putting forward policies that could literally save lives. The UK government must act now by either reforming our outdated laws or give Scotland the power to do so. Countries across the world are ending criminal sanctions for possession of all drugs and others are moving towards legalising and regulating cannabis. The UK looks backward compared to what is happening across the Americas, Europe and parts of Asia.’
The document demonstrated ‘commendable political leadership from the Scottish Government on this crucial issue’, added Transform CEO Alex Feis-Bryce. ‘Rather than pandering to “tough” populist narratives, this UK government and The Labour Party must support Scotland in delivering these proposals, and take note that this is the best way to end the drugs crisis in the rest of the UK as well.’
A caring, compassionate and human rights informed drug policy for Scotland at https://www.gov.scot/publications/caring-compassionate-human-rights-informed-drug-policy-scotland/