South Queensferry’s MSP has made an impassioned new plea for a radical decriminalised approach to drugs, including heroin. Edinburgh Western Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton yesterday told the Lib-Dem’s party conference that hundreds of deaths caused by drug use every year make it essential for Scotland to learn from the experience of other countries. These would include, for example, the Netherlands, where cannabis has been decriminalised for many years, and where heroin users can obtain “clean” supplies of the drug from special clinics.
A bid to establish what could amount to a pilot venture for such a system in Scotland is underway in Glasgow. The Lib-Dem desire for a seismic change in the way illegal drugs are dealt with is nothing new, but at the conference it was argued that law enforcement strategies are clearly failing. At the same time it’s claimed that “dramatic cuts” to drug and alcohol services have been imposed by the SNP Government.
The Scottish Government cannot change the laws on drugs, which are a reserved UK matter, but it was argued police should use their discretion to ignore drugs held only for personal use. Recent cases in areas including Grangemouth suggest police, on at least some occasions, are already merely cautioning people found in possession of small quantities of cannabis.
The Scottish Green Party takes a very similar view to the Lib-Dems, stating in its manifesto: “We will support licensing for the supply of cannabis and propose that other currently illicit drugs required as part of a programme of treatment for addiction are supplied through pharmacist-run treatment centres.
“Enforcement of existing laws should prioritise targeting major illicit suppliers, and penalties should reflect accurate assessment of harm.” At the conference Mr Cole-Hamilton, the Lib-Dems’ health spokesman, asserted that the evidence of failure to tackle drug problems puts the Lib-Dem view “firmly in the mainstream” when it comes to scientific and medical practice on how to deal with drug incidents.
He said: “For many years the Liberal Democrats have supported a policy of decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use and provision of heroin assisted treatment clinics as a way of reducing both harm to the individual and to society.
“This policy would prevent unnecessary deaths, alleviate the burden on our NHS and free up the justice system to tackle the people and organised crime groups producing and dealing drugs. “It is time the Scottish Government got behind this approach.” Debating the issue at the Perth conference, John Waddell – from the party’s Aberdeen Central branch – said: “We support decriminalisation for a very good reason – criminalising people for their vulnerability achieves nothing.” He added: “We are liberals at hearts. We support the autonomy of individuals over coercion. There is no autonomy where there is addiction.
"The motion called for established safe injecting rooms and drugs testing facilities “in all localities where there is a need."
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