Ged Killen Rutherglen and Hamilton West
We are in the midst of a devastating drugs crisis that is totally preventable and must do everything possible to stop problematic drug use killing people in Scotland.
The Misuse of Drugs Act is no longer fit for purpose.
But we know the Tories are led by ideology and not the wealth of evidence that is available, which is why the Scottish Government must be prepared to take bold steps to tackle this emergency.
We should be doing whatever it takes and whatever works. The first step is declaring a public health emergency in Scotland.
But we also need radical action to help those who are already experiencing problematic drug use.
As part of our ongoing inquiry, the Scottish Affairs Committee has heard evidence that shows places such as Durham are leading the way in the UK in spite of our draconian drug laws.
Police are successfully diverting those found in possession of class A drugs into treatment services to avoid arrest.
This is decriminalisation in all but name and means that more vital resources can be directed towards a public health approach instead of being wasted in a futile and damaging attempt to imprison and criminalise people who have a health issue.
The Home Office’s refusal to allow much-needed safer drug consumption rooms to be opened in Glasgow is as inexplicable as it is shameful.
But the Committee has heard evidence from witnesses to suggest a letter of comfort from the Lord Advocate would be sufficient to allow these facilities to open – although the Lord Advocate himself has taken a very cautious approach.
Both Governments should be working together to tackle this crisis but the shocking increase in deaths shows we simply do not have time to waste getting angry at the UK Government’s intransigence.
Of course we must demand change – and I hope the Scottish Affairs Committee will make bold recommendations to the UK Government.
But, if change at a UK level is not forthcoming and powers are not devolved, the Scottish Government must be prepared to do whatever is necessary. On issues as important as this, it is surely better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
The committee heard evidence from senior police officers suggesting the Lord Advocate was being too cautious and that a letter of comfort would be sufficient to allow a DCR to be opened.
I think we need to take that advice seriously and look at the example in Canada where drugs haven’t been decriminalised but there is a licensing regime in place and an understanding with local police that people coming to use the facilities will not be arrested.
If we are being realistic, we need to accept that the UK Government may not budge on this.
I want them to – but if they don’t, I think we can, and should be, as bold as possible in pushing that line and open a DCR anyway with, hopefully, a letter of comfort from the Lord Advocate.
Drugs are used by a wide range of people in society and the reasons are complex and varied.
But we know that mental health, adverse childhood experiences and income and health inequality are some of the key drivers of problematic drug use.
Early intervention, education, and investing in making people’s lives better will help to reduce the need for problematic drug use and these are things the Scottish Government can get on with doing immediately.
The eyes of the world are on us.
In terms of personal possession, if Westminster do not go down the road of decriminalisation or devolving the powers necessary to do so, I’d like to see us doing what happens in places such as Durham.
It was clear from the Lord Advocate that this is something he is at liberty to do in terms of the guidance he issues on arrest and prosecutions.