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SNP Drugs Minister defends ‘radical’ drug decriminalisation

The SNP’s Drugs Policy Minister has defended the weakening of laws around possession of the most dangerous drugs.

It comes as a Scottish Government spokesperson confirmed the radical move hadn’t been discussed at Cabinet.

Earlier, during an interview with Good Morning Scotland, Angela Constance insisted that a deterrent effect has not been taken away, despite it being put to her that punishments for possessing heroin are now similar to those for public urination.

Police Scotland guidance already explicitly states that Recorded Police Warnings do not seek to criminalise individuals.

Shadow Justice Secretary Jamie Greene said that the SNP must re-think this “dangerous approach” and instead back Scottish Conservative plans for a Right to Recovery Bill.

Scottish Conservative Shadow Justice Secretary Jamie Greene MSP, said: “Under the SNP, drug deaths have become our national shame, but their plans for an effective decriminalisation of drugs is not the way to solve this scandal.

“It’s astonishing that the biggest drugs policy overhaul since devolution has been waved through without so much as a discussion at Cabinet. An issue of such magnitude deserves proper consideration and scrutiny.

“Within 24 hours of announcing it, the SNP’s drugs minister is already downplaying genuine concerns over the weakening of drug laws.

“They must re-think this dangerous approach, which dilutes how seriously we treat possession of the most deadly drugs in our society.

“People will now be receiving the same punishment for carrying Class A drugs as they would for urinating in public.

“Rather than a radical move that will benefit drug dealers, the SNP should be focusing on guaranteeing everyone who needs treatment can get it, as the Scottish Conservatives Right to Recovery Bill proposes.”

Notes: A partial transcript of the interview on GMS is below:

Gary Robertson: Possession of heroin carries the same penalty as public urination. Is that the way that you'd like to see Scotland go?

Angela Constance: Well, let's just be clear here. The Lord Advocate was speaking about possession only offences, I would of course as a Drug Minister argue that people caught in possession of heroin should be supported into treatment because we can't arrest our way out of a drug deaths crisis. We need to be reducing demand for drugs as well as supply. This is of course a discretionary power by the police, and it is also a matter of discretion by the individual concerned whether they accept a recorded police warning as well, but it is an example of how we can tailor our criminal justice system to be more proportionate and be more timely and more smart use of the law. 

[...]

Gary Robertson: There's obviously a lot of work going on to try and, as you say, to save lives because of the high number of drug deaths that we have seen in Scotland. How do you deter people from becoming involved in drugs in the first instance, given that that deterrent effect has been taken away yesterday?

Angela Constance: Well, I don't think the deterrent effect has been taken away. We are following the evidence about what works.

GR: Do you think a warning is going to be a deterrent for people getting involved in hard drugs?

AC: I think there is an acknowledgement amongst stakeholders, experts and crucially those with lived and living experience who have had experience of both substance misuse and have been in contact with the criminal justice system at various steps and turns, whether that is police custody court or prison and what they will all talk about in varying degrees is the importance of help and the importance of support. 

GR: But what would have stopped them getting involved in the first place?

AC: You know, the point you are making about prevention and taking it at a whole family approach, the work in education in schools is absolutely crucial. Our work to strengthen resilience in communities and to tackle poverty and the work across government to improve people's live chances is absolutely crucial because I am very clear there is two sides to our national mission. There's the public health emergency and what we need to do now to reduce the harms of drugs, to stop people dying, but there's also about what we do to improve people's live chances and to prevent this happening in the first place.