As Westminster Government partners fall out over the UK’s long-standing policy of prohibition, the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is lobbying for drug laws to be devolved.
The umbrella group has formally asked the all-party Smith Commission, which is working on new Home Rule proposals, to move control of the Misuse Of Drugs Act north of the Border.
Charities backing the move include Addaction, one of the biggest bodies supporting addicts in the UK.
Ruchir Shah, SCVO’s policy manager, said: “Many voluntary organisations want Scotland to have powers over the control of illegal drugs. Tackling substance abuse could then be tailored more closely to Scotland’s particular challenges and needs.
“Some of SCVO’s member charities have raised concerns the current approach tries to criminalise people. They would prefer to see policies coming from a health, care and community approach.”
Such an approach could see Scotland move to a more liberal regime within the UK – mirroring America. There, different states take very different attitudes to drugs, with two having legalised cannabis and several other decriminalising the substance.
Several senior drugs policy experts north of the border now question Westminster rhetoric on the issue.
SNP MSP Christine Grahame, who chairs the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, welcomed any move to bring drugs laws to Holyrood, saying this would provide more “cohesive” policy-making.
“If we are going to tackle drug issues we need the full range of powers. In many cases we would endeavour to be compatible with the rest of the UK – especially in terms of enforcement – but that does not mean we can’t lead the way, as with the ban on smoking in public places.”
Ms Grahame was not calling for specific proposals but said she would welcome discussion. She said: “I am not an expert and would want to speak to people who are before making up my mind. But I think that it would be worth having a debate on decriminalising cannabis.”
Liberal Democrat Home Office minister Norman Baker resigned from the UK Government on Monday after accusing the Conservatives of being “soft on drugs” by ducking decriminalisation. “They are the ones who allow the process to go on whereby drug dealers continue to make money and people continue to get fined and carry on taking drugs, ” he said.
Scottish Conservatives, however, refused to rule out devolving drugs laws as they engage with Lord Smith’s group. A spokesman said: “We went into the Smith Commission talks with an open mind, and continue to have that approach. We are happy to discuss any proposals that come before it and look forward to continuing the negotiations.”
Labour MSP Graeme Pearson raised concerns over the growing scourge of high-strength cannabis when he was director of the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency. Yesterday he questioned any move to devolve drugs laws, although he said he was open to persuasion as the Smith Commission debates powers.
He said: “The misuse of drugs and the culture that lies behind it is nationwide and indeed international. It seems to be difficult to see how the law could work one way in England and a completely different way in Scotland.”
Scotland already has responsibility for enforcing current laws and treating and supporting the country’s estimated 60,000 problem drug users.