Scottish ministers are appealing to the UK Government to back decriminalisation of personal-use substances, following proposals for a “health-led” approach to drugs in the country.
In a policy review, outlining the Scottish Government’s intentions in the event of further devolution or independence, Ministers proposed a decriminalisation of drugs for personal-use — alongside calls for legislative changes to allow drug consumption facilities and supervised drug programmes.
Drug laws in Scotland are currently dictated by Westminster, meaning the devolved parliament cannot install any decriminalisation of prohibited substances without UK Government approval — despite the fact that Scotland is responsible for the health and social aspects of drug use.
As reported by The BBC, Scotland’s Minister for Drug Policy Elena Whitham told a press conference on Friday (July 7) that the Scottish Government want to take a harm-reduction approach to drug policy.
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“We want to create a society where problematic drug use is treated as a health, not a criminal matter,” she said. “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.”
Back in 2019, the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP) gave formal backing to decriminalisation. The policy has led to a number of disputes between the Scottish Government and Westminster, with the Home Office refused to allow a trial for “safe consumption rooms” in Glasgow.
There were 1330 drug-related deaths in Scotland in 2022, giving it the highest number of recorded drug deaths in Europe – the Scottish Government have, as a result, invested £250 million in drug recovery programmes.
In 2021 the Scottish Government changed their policing policy around drugs, resulting in those caught with substances for personal-use to be given warnings, instead of being prosecuted – effectively “decriminalising” personal-use drugs, according to some commentators.
In her speech, Elena Whitham highlighted that the Scottish Government would be able to enact the proposals should it become further devolved, or independent — but asked that the UK Government consider a change in drug laws.
“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.”
A spokesperson for UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said there were “no plans” to change The UK Government’s “tough stance on drugs.”
Megan Townsend is Mixmag’s Deputy Editor, follow her on Twitter
Written by: Tim Hopkins