Scotland is in a unique position when it comes to drug policy reform. Like the rest of the UK, they face tough challenges. With recent news of the tragic death of 16 year old Shellie Callaghan due to ‘rogue pill’ batches, this terrible event reflects the growing trend of drug deaths. For the first time, road deaths have now been overshadowed by drug deaths. 613 registered drug deaths in Scotland in 2014 – the largest number ever recorded, 86 (16 per cent) more than in 2013, and 257 (72 per cent) higher than in 2004.
On February 29th 2016, a group of figures with backgrounds in the police, MI5, British Army, undercover operatives, stood together in a room in Westminster Palace to give compassionate and comprehensive insight into the many ways in which our drug laws are harmful – LEAP UK had officially launched and gave the law enforcement perspective for drug law reform.
Invited to the room in parliament, LEAP UK were joined by a number of MPs who listened for two hours as the panel detailed the many routes of harm due to the punitive model for drugs. One of the MPs who attended, Ronnie Cowan, Member of Parliament for Inverclyde – went on to write about his experience on the website Politics Home. In his thoughtful and reflective piece, Ronnie said:
Under the current status quo of criminalisation the problem of unregulated drugs is self-perpetuating. We have unknown criminals selling unknown substances to unknown addicts. When the state does intervene it is to punish and frequently that punishment is focused on the addicts who are in dire need of help.
Such was Ronnie Cowan’s interest that his office made contact to see if an event in Inverclyde was possible so that his and surrounding constituents could hear for themselves just why we need drug law reform for the sake of public health.
On the panel we have:
- Jim Duffy. LEAP UK member and retired Police Inspector, Jim was the Chair of the Strathclyde Police Federation and provides the police perspective on drug law reform.
- Jolene Crawford. As an Anyone’s Child member, Jolene is able to give a uniquely personal testimony of what it’s like to lose a family member to drugs and can convey how drug policy reform saves lives.
- Stephen Malloy. Board member of INPUD (International Network of People who Use Drugs) Stephen is well studied in harm reduction, Naloxone distribution, and is able to give the much needed perspective from the drug consumer.
- Alex Nicol. Moving On Inverclyde are a charity who provide support and assistance to those who may suffer with addiction – Alex is the Service Manager.
Scotland has been quietly moving ahead with some measure of reform. At the end of 2015, The Herald found that people found in possession of small amounts of cannabis would receive a warning rather than be prosecuted, with the aim of a ‘proportionate’ response so that,
“Officers will not have to spend their time writing standard prosecution reports and can do police work instead.”
In recent weeks, the SNP have made strong moves to understand the nuances of drug policy. At their Party Conference, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon backed the delegates overwhelming calls to decriminalise medicinal cannabis.
But perhaps the biggest move forward is that of the Scottish Police Federation (SPF), the body which represents over 17,000 ‘rank-and-file’ police officers. In their manifesto, published in April, they represent the fact that the arrest and prosecution of those with addiction has failed, favouring treatment over punishment.
[..] decades of arresting and prosecuting those with dependency problems has failed to tackle the root cause. There will always be those who end up in the criminal justice system as a consequence of their actions. Where prosecutions are necessary, the punishment should be swift and decisive.
Although very encouraging, the SPF did stop short of endorsing formal reforms, saying,
“The SPF is not advocating the legalisation or decriminalising of drugs, but efforts should be better directed in trying to help those with problems overcome addictions.”
Fuller reform can only come about with the cooperation of all layers of society and governance. The SPF’s manifesto certainly lends itself to a fuller reform debate.
The Inverclyde event on November 3rd could provide much needed assistance to pursuit of an evidence and health-based drug policy. Scotland and Wales could well lead where England falls behind.
November 3rd, Gamble Halls, Gourock – doors will open at 6.30pm. There’s limited space, so please do book to assure your place on the guest list – and make sure you have your say.