The Memo: Scottish government calls for decriminalisation of drugs

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Scottish government calls for decriminalisation of drugs

James Westmacott – 18 September 2023

The issue of drug use in Scotland is long documented, with commentators consistently grappling with the question: why does the country have the highest drug-related death rate in the whole of Europe? In what its proponents see as a more compassionate response aimed at reducing harm, the Scottish government has made public proposals requesting the decriminalisation of all drugs for personal use. Whilst it would remain illegal to possess drugs with the intention of selling them on, the move would allow users the chance to be medically treated and given the support they need, rather than societal ostracization and exclusion which, proponents argue, merely exacerbates the issue.

Along with decriminalisation for personal use, further changes to the country’s current drug laws will be sought. This predominantly relates to the implementation of harm reduction methods which includes safe and supervised drug consumption facilities, rigorous drug-content checks, and heightened access to life saving drugs such as Naloxone. According to figures published in 2023 by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, Scotland continues to hold top spot for the most drug deaths in Europe, with 248 deaths per million population. The National Record of Scotland additionally highlighted that although men are more likely to be affected by fatal usage, since the year 2000 the number of men dying from drugs in the country has merely tripled, whereas for women the figure has increased by seven times.

Despite such radical proposals, the reality remains that a big change in the law is unlikely. Laws on drug use are one of the powers that falls on Westminster, and the proposals have – perhaps unsurprisingly – displeased conservatives. Following the proposals, the Home Office was quick to issue a statement reaffirming their commitment to preventing drug use and clamping down on criminal gangs who deal them. So, while the discussion will likely continue, drastic changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 might be a bit far-fetched as things stand.