MPs urge decriminalisation of some drugs laws to tackle problem use

Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee has published its report on problem drug use Credit: Paul Faith/PA

The possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use should be decriminalised across the UK, according to MPs.

The Scottish Affairs Committee said the move could help address the root causes of problem drug use.

The committee’s report makes a series of recommendations following an extensive inquiry into drug use in Scotland.

The MPs said the UK Government currently treats drugs as a criminal justice matter, but they heard “overwhelmingly” that legal sanctions are “counter-productive”.

They said a public health approach should instead inform Government policy, and that decriminalisation would help challenge key issues such as stigma when it comes to people seeking treatment.

The Department of Health and Social Care should also take over lead responsibility for drugs policy from the Home Office, the report said.

The recommendations come less than two weeks after Westminster’s Health and Social Care Committee also said some drug offences should be decriminalised, saying drug possession for personal use should be a civil matter and not a crime.

Focusing on the issue in Scotland, the new report said legislation should be brought forward to allow safe drug consumption facilities to be set up.

A proposal to establish such a site – where users can take drugs in a safe environment with sterile equipment and medical staff supervision – in Glasgow has been backed by both the city council and the Scottish Government.

But the move has been blocked by the Home Office – an action the MPs expressed “deep regret” over.

While noting such facilities would not be a “silver bullet” to tackling the issue, the committee said they could be a cost-effective and evidence-based solution to Scotland’s drug crisis.

It urged the UK Government to bring forward the necessary legislation to allow for a pilot facility, or failing that to devolve drugs legislation to the Scottish Parliament so it can “implement the health approach it deems to be in Scotland’s best interest”.

The report also said the Scottish Government must do more to ensure drug services within its responsibilities are “properly funded and supported”.

It said Scottish Government decisions, such as cutting funding for Alcohol and Drug Partnerships in its 2016/17 Budget, have “made the situation worse”.

The report added: “If the Scottish Government wants to call for more powers to tackle the drug crisis, it must demonstrate that it is doing everything within the powers it already has.”

SNP MP Pete Wishart, chairman of the committee, said: “Throughout our inquiry we heard tragic accounts of the pain and suffering that problem drug use is causing in Scotland.

“If this number of people were being killed by any other illness, the Government would declare it as a public health issue and act accordingly. The evidence is clear – the criminal justice approach does not work.

“Decriminalisation is a pragmatic solution to problem drug use – reducing stigma around drug use and addiction, and encouraging people to seek treatment.

“For too long successive UK Governments have ignored the evidence on how drug policy could be improved.

“The Government must now start listening to the expert advice they are given, starting with our committee’s report, to reduce problematic drug use in Scotland and prevent the tragic loss of life.

“The Scottish Government must also ensure that health services in Scotland are properly funded, and that funding cuts are not worsening the problem.”