A Caring & Compassionate Drugs Policy: Here’s what decriminalisation would mean for Scotland

The SNP is determined to tackle the Scotland’s problem with drugs. For too long, a hard and callous approach dictated by Westminster has seen the problem worsen, not improve.

In 2021, there were 1,330 deaths from drug misuse in Scotland, the second highest figure on record. Every life lost to addiction is a tragedy. The Scottish Government is committed to implementing evidence-based approaches that we know will save lives.

It’s clear that Westminster’s policy of treating addiction as a criminal issue is failing. Scotland needs a caring, compassionate and evidence-based policy, with public health and harm-reduction as its underlying principles.

Here’s all you need to know about how the Scottish Government’s recent proposals to improve and save lives.

What has the Scottish Government been doing?

The Scottish Government has been working tirelessly within its powers to reduce drug deaths. In 2019, it established the Drug Deaths Taskforce to examine new approaches to dealing with drug addiction in Scotland.

In it, we set out our National Mission to improve and save lives in 2021, and have committed to improving mental health support, reducing homelessness and ensuring Scotland has a humane and responsive justice system.

An additional £250 million has been allocated over the course of this Parliament to improve and increase access to services for people affected by drug addiction. The Scottish Government is determined that every penny of the £250m will make a difference to all those affected by this public health emergency.

What are the proposals?

The Scottish Government has published a new paper which proposes a legal framework drawn from the best available evidence on how to reduce harm and improve lives.

We want to create a society where problematic drug use is treated as a health, not a criminal matter, reducing stigma and discrimination. This approach is to enable a person to recover and contribute positively to society, rather than shame them and restrict their life chances.

Among our proposals are the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use. Possession of drugs with an intent to supply and dealing illegal drugs would remain a criminal offence.

The Scottish Government also wants to implement harm-reduction measures such as supervised drug consumption facilities, drug-checking and increased access to the life saving drug naloxone.

In the proposals, we also seek an update to the drug classification system, moving from an outdated system based on criminalisation to one based on harm caused.

Alex Feis-Bryce, CEO of the Transform Drug Policy Foundation said “this demonstrates commendable political leadership from the Scottish Government on this crucial issue. 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.”

An NGO coalition including the Scottish Drug Forum and the Centre for Justice Innovation also gave their backing to the Scottish Government’s report. In a statement, they said “as organisations that work in drug policy and harm reduction, we welcome the evidence-based proposals in the new report published by the Scottish Government proposing a road map for the future of drug policy and law in Scotland.  

“We share the view of the report that drug policy based on health and human rights achieves better outcomes for individuals, their families, communities and wider society.”

The UK government’s current drug laws have utterly failed to combat the personal use of drugs or the public health emergency addiction represents.

The Misuse of Drugs Act is over 50 years old, is outdated and in urgent need of reform. Many committees, experts and independent organisations have already come to the same conclusion including Scotland’s Drug Deaths Taskforce, the Scottish Affairs Committee and the Westminster Health and Social Care Committee.

Decriminalisation is no longer a radical proposal and has been proven to work time and time again around the world, as have supervised consumption facilities.

The UK government’s current model either deliberately or inadvertently makes life more difficult for those whose lives have been blighted by drugs. Branding those in need of help with a criminal record and diminished chances of employment cannot be a constructive approach.

With our bold new proposals, the Scottish Government aims to gradually reduce drug deaths and combat the crisis of addiction. It also hopes to tackle the stigma that surrounds the issue and create a kinder, more compassionate policy that delivers for Scotland.