Mev Brown: Why 'super-size' law will combat drug use
Last week, Holyrood candidate Mev Brown damned our failure to tackle the menace of drug abuse in our communities. Here he offers his radical solution
The war on drugs is over:we lost. The numbers speak for themselves. Scotland's prisons hold 8000 inmates. Our police officers number 17,000, but our 55,000 drug addicts outnumber the police by more than three to one.
This is why there are constant calls for radical change to drugs policy. And by radical, I meant the decriminalisation or the legalisation of drugs.
Home Secretaries and their officials know this would be political suicide. But for 30 years they have scratched their heads and drawn a blank.
Similarly, they know that the heavy cost of drug addiction to both the economy and society is becoming unbearable.
I am an advocate of evidence-based policy. And what the evidence tells me is that, in general terms, without massive state support, the scale of today's drugs problem simply could not be sustained.
There are three crucial factors.
Firstly, state benefits, including housing benefits. By providing the basics for drug addicts, the state is effectively facilitating drug addiction - at taxpayers' expense.
Secondly, the legislation. The Misuse of Drugs Act is fundamentally flawed and this has been a crucial factor in our drugs problem spiralling out of control.
It is only illegal to be in possession of controlled substances, it is not illegal to be under the influence of controlled substances.
Consider this - in many (Muslim] countries alcohol is illegal. But in those countries it is also illegal to be intoxicated. To make possession illegal but not use defies all logic.
Thirdly, easy access to victims of crime. Acquisitive crime is closely associated with drug addiction.
Indeed, about 66 per cent of prison inmates have substance abuse issues. Simply put, the criminal justice system has been overwhelmed for years.
So, with approximately ten per cent of drug addicts in prison at any one time, the remainder are free to fund their addiction by whatever method or means they choose. We simply can't keep building prisons, we can't keep up.
While benefits and drugs legislation are not devolved, Holyrood is not powerless.
Of course, wherever possible, public funds which enable or facilitate drug addiction must be withdrawn. But, where this is not possible, conditions must be attached.
Holyrood can't scrap the Misuse of Drugs Act, but it can "super-size" it. The "legal use" loophole can be closed and actually make the job of the police and the courts easy.
Another key issue is sentencing policy.
An additional sentencing option would be provided - and, in my view, the only appropriate sentence - under the "super-sized Act": mandatory treatment.
I see no point whatsoever in sending a drug addict to a prison awash with drugs.
In the new regime, where appropriate, treatment would be in the community. Where not appropriate, closed single-sex rehab communities would be set up.
For those not ready - or willing - to give up drugs, then secure single-sex supervised communities would be established.
This option would also apply to methadone addicts, itself a Class A controlled drug. For parents with children, separate, closed, single-sex communities with additional social work supervision would be created.
A key factor of this regime is to deny all addicts easy access to victims of crime to fund addiction while remaining within the constraints of existing funding streams.
Treatment options would be expanded to include Subutex and Naltrexone amongst other appropriate medications. Methadone is more addictive than heroin, and its use in the community will be phased out within the lifetime of the next parliament.
Drugs, heroin in particular, are linked to poverty and poor education. Indeed, I would go so far as to say many addicts are "lost" in today's society. Social rehabilitation, education and training must be part of the overall regime.
After an appropriate period of being drug-free, two years of community and/or overseas voluntary work should be required before rejoining mainstream society. Recovered drug addicts must have a place and a future in our society.
The acceptance of drugs in our society is an issue. With a new regime, we would need a new service with a new culture.
The new service would need some core funding, but otherwise existing funding would be used, while staff would be recruited or seconded from existing services, such as social work, the NHS, police, the Scottish Prison Service, the voluntary sector, etc.
Rehab communities could use existing housing stock, or newly-built housing funded by the existing housing budget and/or with Scottish Futures Trust/Private Finance Initiative funding.
The service would benefit from being an integrated service, rather than the disjointed, incoherent collection of independent services we have today.
Drug addiction is one of the biggest problems that politicians have faced for more than 30 years.
Having worked with the homeless for nine years, and been active in politics for seven, I have gained considerable insight into the issue from various perspectives.
I hope the main parties accept that they don't have a monopoly on good policy ideas.
No serious observer can admit that the current regime works, or ever will.
It is, as they say, time for change.
There are only two options.
We can go the decriminalisation/ legalisation route.
Or, we can go the "real zero tolerance" route.
The question is - do the main parties have the courage to make this kind of choice?
One final point. There have been calls for the end to automatic early release.
Under real zero tolerance, 66 per cent of offenders are directed to rehab communities, and the only funding required will be the core funding for the new service.
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