By Emily Ledger
The Liberal Democrats have become well-known for the party’s support of a complete overhaul of drug policy. Since 2015, the party has gone as far as advocating for the legalisation of Cannabis in the UK, and the introduction of a regulated market. The Lib Dems have now issued new calls, aimed at the Scottish National Party, for the decriminalisation of Cannabis.
The Liberal Democrats have announced that it has delivered a 10-point plan to key Ministers, which it believes would help to tackle the current drug problem in Scotland. Scotland, particularly in urban areas such as Glasgow, has seen a steady and alarming number of drug-related deaths.
There were 1,187 deaths related to drug use in 2018 alone in Scotland. According to National Records of Scotland, this is the highest number of drug-related deaths ever recorded in the country. The total is more than double the number recorded a decade ago.
Drug policy for the whole of the UK – including Scotland – is set at Westminster, with no devolved powers currently in place to specific countries. Despite a long-running debate around the effectiveness of drug policy in the UK, the UK government has insisted that there are no plans for decriminalisation of any drugs in the future:
One Home Office spokesperson stated:
“The Government will not decriminalise drugs. Illegal drugs devastate lives and communities, and dealers should face the full consequences of the law.”
Cannabis remains a Class B drug throughout the whole of the UK. Persons found to be involved in unlicensed production, distribution, and trafficking can be given a 14-year prison sentence, an unlimited fine, or both.
For possession, offenders may face a maximum penalty of five years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. However, the number of charges for Cannabis possession has plummetted over the last decade. This is widely down to the policing tactics of individual forces, as they focus their efforts elsewhere.
On the other hand, the UK legalised medical Cannabis for some conditions in 2018. The nation has also been the largest exporter of medical Cannabis products since 2016.
The plan, unveiled by the Lib Dems, includes diversionary treatment for individuals caught in possession of drugs for personal use. It also calls for the Scottish government to back Cannabis decriminalisation and the introduction of a “regulated Cannabis market”. Advocates of the plan believe that this would take the drug out of the hands of organised crime gangs.
LibDem Health spokesman, Alex Cole-Hamilton, unveiled the plan:
“Both of Scotland’s governments are stuck in the last century. We’ve had a war on drugs for decades, and drugs won. Now it is about learning lessons and facing up to reality.”
The plan also outlines an increase in minimum unit pricing, expansion of assisted heroin treatment plans, and actions to tackle neonatal abstinence syndrome. In addition, the plan covers the deployment of drug testing and protections for drug and alcohol partnership funding.
A spokeswoman for the SNP-ruled Scottish government claimed:
“We have long called for the UK Government to reform the Misuse of Drugs Act and, if they will not, to instead devolve power to allow the Scottish Parliament to act.”
A number of high profile politicians have now called on the government to consider the decriminalisation of Cannabis. The change of attitude, which is becoming increasingly apparent across the nation, is part of a much wider global movement.