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Scotland Floats Decriminalizing All Drugs

Scotland has the highest drug-related death rate of any European country

The government of Scotland proposed decriminalizing all drug possession in order to focus on treating people with drug addictions.

Scotland’s Drugs Policy Minister Elena Whitham said the “war of drugs has failed” during a public address on July 7.

“That’s a fact. I don’t think we can dispute that,” said Whitman, per the BBC. “Our current drug law does not stop people from using drugs, it does not stop people from experiencing the harm associated and, critically, it does not stop people from dying.”

“In fact, I would say today here, that criminalisation increases the harms people experience,” she added. “Criminalisation kills.”

The government suggested it would still maintain criminal punishments for those who possess drugs with the intention of selling or distributing them.

In 2020, just over 320 people for every one million died from a drug-related death in Scotland – the highest rate of any European country. Data from the National Records of Scotland shows drug misuse deaths have climbed from 255 in 1996 to 1,330 in 2021. Scottish people between the ages of 35 and 44 were the most likely to die from drug misuse while 65% of drug misuse deaths involved people ages 35-54. 

“More than two thirds of those who died were male,” noted the 2022 report. “In 93% of all drug misuse deaths, more than one drug was found to be present in the body. Of all drug misuse deaths in 2021, 84% involved opiates or opioids (such as heroin, morphine and methadone). 69% involved benzodiazepines (such as diazepam and etizolam).”  

Conservative members of parliament oppose the plan to decriminalize all drugs.

“It is madness to try and solve Scotland’s drug death crisis, the worst in Europe, by essentially legalising heroin, crack and other class-A drugs,” said Russell Findlay, the spokesman for Scottish Conservatives. “This would put more drugs on our streets. It would put more lives at risk. “

To universally decriminalize drug possession, Scotland would need the support of parliamentary members in Westminster. Whitham argued in her address that the United Kingdom’s law governing drug possession are more than five decades old.  

“We need a 21st-century framework to build around a public health approach,” she said.

Whitman also stressed the need to shift focus from prosecution to intervention. 

“If you push people who are using drugs to the margins, that’s when bad things happen to people,” said the Scottish official, per The Guardian. “If you actually allow people to have all of the information that they need, based firmly within a harm reduction model, people are going to come to less serious harm.”

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that “there are no plans to alter our tough stance on drugs,” according to Reuters

Scotland downgraded the punishment for the possession of Class A drugs, including heroin, cocaine, and LSD, to a police warning in September of 2021

“There is no one size fits all response to an individual found in possession of a controlled substance, or an individual dependent on drugs,” Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain said of the legal change while addressing parliament. “The most appropriate response, the smartest response in any drugs case must be tailored to the facts and circumstances of both the alleged offence and the offender.”

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