The Drug Laws Don’t Work

drugs-portugalThe failure of the War on Drugs in Scotland means we badly need a re-think. There were 706 deaths from drug overdoses in 2015, which represents a rise of 14% from 2014. Government figures suggest every year over a thousand Scots die as a direct result of alcohol. The problem we have in Scotland is we have a very accommodating view of alcohol but a very hostile view of drugs. While we revel as a society in our capacity to drink, we condemn people who take drugs, either to a prison sentence, a criminal record or at best, disdain.

In 2001, Portugal decriminalised possession of all drugs, including heroin and cocaine. Since doing so, HIV rates have plummeted and the country has amongst the lowest levels of drug overdose death anywhere in Europe. Nor has there been a surge in anti-social behaviour. Plus, despite what doom-sayers warned, overall drug consumption in Portugal has not spiked but has instead stayed fairly constant. The fact that possession of drugs is no longer a criminal offence has not meant the Portuguese have rushed out to try some.

There is a real opportunity for Scotland here. There are limits to how much you can lower tax in Scotland without the rest of the UK following suit. There was a great suspension in logic during the independence campaign that the Tories were both too right-wing for Scots but not so right-wing that it would match corporation tax cuts. Trying to cut taxes further than a Tory government is asking for trouble.

Fortunately, this does not apply to all policy. It’s hard to imagine a Westminster government brave enough to decriminalise drugs. They would face the inertia of the civil service, the tabloid press would warn of the last days of Rome and older people, more likely to vote, would probably oppose it instinctively. If Scotland wanted to it could have a free run at the countless benefits.

Prisons would no longer be holding pens for Scots with an addiction. The Howard League estimates that it costs taxpayers about £33,000 per year to keep someone in jail for a year. Can no-one think of a better way to spend this money? Besides, Scots in jail for drug possession are people that could be contributing to the economy by paying taxes and buying goods. Even in those cases where a prison sentence hasn’t been given, a criminal conviction on an application form can mean the difference between getting a job or forever going to the job centre, which costs the taxpayer yet more money.

Decriminalising drugs would also make Scots safer. It is obvious that there are risks when drugs are left unregulated and its left to gangsters to decide what the ingredients are. The same would be true of alcohol if the ingredients were not regulated. That’s why Russians die from drinking home-brew that contains god knows what. If our alcohol industry was unregulated and could put whatever it liked in a beer, of course there would be deaths from bad batches as there are at times from ecstasy pills. The only difference is alcohol is culturally very much approved of in Scotland whereas ecstasy is not.

There is no reason why Scotland could not compete with Amsterdam for tourists seeking a safe and legal place to take drugs. Let the old rich Americans play golf and take a whisky in the Highlands while younger tourists from Europe take a toke in Glasgow. This doesn’t just apply to overseas visitors. With nightclubs closing at an alarming rate it will be harder for those working in the night-time economy to justify living in London. York can keep its boozy stag and hen parties with the associated anti-social behaviour that goes with it. Glasgow, already leader for the night-time economy, could become the party capital of the UK with clubbers able to safely test the drugs they have bought before consumption and without the risk of arrest. If there was strong local feeling, councils of course could decide for themselves whether to restrict sales of drugs to locals, as is the case in The Netherlands.

Of course it would be naïve to think that decriminalisation of drugs could happen in Scotland without serious opposition. I’m quite sure the Scottish Conservatives would fume at the very idea, despite proclaiming themselves the party of enterprise. Likewise, certain sections of the press would be likely to object in strong terms.

All of this depends though on how radical Scotland is willing to be. Would independence mean a profound policy difference with our neighbour, as with USA and Canada, or would there would an unperceivable difference with the same failed policies replicated north of the border? Would an independent Scotland experiment with new approaches or would it be content to stick with the status quo? It is my belief that Scotland must say yes to treating drugs as a health problem, not a crime problem.

Pete MacLeod

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Comments (5)

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  1. w.b.robertson says:

    Here – just behave! you can`t do this! don`t you realise that the war on drugs is an industry? Just think of the uproar and protests and demo marches from the army of social workers, drug counsellors, clinic staff, methadone serving chemists, various associated do-gooders and the rest of our so called liberal minded unco guid. Legalising drugs would put careers and jobs in jeopardy! (it would also damage the cash assets of our entreprenurial couriers, distributors, dealers and gangsters).

    1. Drug observer says:

      Why do you think social workers would be opposed to legalising drugs?

      Do you actually know any social workers?

  2. David Howdle says:

    For many years I was a Procurator Fiscal. I couldn’t speak out whilst in that job but have thought for years that legalisation and state regulation of drugs would be the sensible way forward. I’m not alone in this view. A Chief Constable once said to me “If we’re involved in a war on drugs welost it years ago”!

  3. c rober says:

    Must be about 10 years since I did some maths work for this , and when I compared to Amsterdam , showing Scotland would have a 6billion pound income – obviously this includes the likes of less police and court time , theft and so on where it would today project much higher…. that is if done and applied correctly.

    This was of course not including the likes of medical breakthroughs on CBD since , reducing even further by the maths I found on pharma medicine cost for SNHS , for post cancer treatment , or the many illnesses shown to be helped and cured by CBD , nor indeed the patent aspect for licencing through R and D…. Ironically the first country to bring to market was Scotland for sativex , Dundee uni which has a research licence if mem serves is still a global leader. But sativex is like taking chemo because you think it cures the cold with the medium it uses for suspension being petrochem based , when you could be using cold pressed extra virgin scotish rape seed oil instead for the oral spray.

    One only needs to google that drugs are somewhat less cumbersome to attack compared to drink , as WBR said prohibition is business , but it should be expanded further , in that UK copies the USA model of profit from prohibition funding companies , and its jobs thus are through public subsidy and community suffering.

    As for the Portugal mention on Decriminalizing , its not as clear cut as that , but the results are indeed right. If found in possession of what is still an illegal substance then the person is marched off to a course instead of court for addiction assessment – I have yet to hear complaint of the system though , from drug takers , police or courts. Spain has a similar lax one , where you can probably open grow two plants , police dont usually bother with weed smokers , but still come down hard on dealers just like Portugal.

    There is a scope for a pilot decriminialisation of at least REGULATED cannabis for Scotland , perhaps on one or two of the islands , regulated through chemists. It is worth noting here that many of our island communities already know this , and are secretly taking weed unregulated but educated on strains for specific medical benefits – and its not in the age bracket you would imagine , nor for the high.

    Drink as we know Scotland has a historical problem with , weed not so much.

    The cost to Scottish courts and the NHS for drink is in a far higher number than that of say your average dope smoker , even more so if it is regulated removing the criminal aspect and gateway to harder drugs in the process , and of course removing the need for tobacco in joints which is another health concern via vape. Those costs are soon to be dwarfed by obesity – which CDB can also treat.

    It may not come to surprise of many but I smoke weed , have done most of my adult life so aproachin 40 years.

    The last joint about 3 months ago and I still consider my self a smoker even if long in between joints – but not a daily or even weekly one , just when someone whom grows for medicinal wants my opinion , I never buy it. I am one of those that wont even take paracetamol thinking its dangerous , and it is dangerous .

    Since my last joint my diabetes has skyrocketed , as has my fag consumption peaking at 3 packs as well as my waist line and eye pressure. My partner though on several different legal drugs , costing Scottish taxpayers thousands a year – where CBD would remove all of them , costing pence per unit.

    It really is time for Scotland to treat people like adults , that behave like adults , on drugs with less cost in lives than drink does.

  4. Kim Cuthbertson says:

    Best thing I ever watched was a documentary called Heroin, facing the Dragon. Nothing stopping us, with many wee islands,setting up such a place for addiction. People back to normal lives. Many people on methadone programmes for many years ,not working,part of society Etc just doesn’t work and costs a forture,ruins lives of families,court costs,support workers Etc etc…..I would like to see us give this method a go for those who really want to quit.

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