Heroin must be legalised, says former judge

A FORMER High Court judge has called for heroin to be legalised, branding current drugs policy in Scotland a "massive failure".

In an interview in The Scotsman today, Lord McCluskey says the link between drugs and crime is even closer than people are led to believe. "If people are addicted to heroin, give them heroin," he declares.

Lord McCluskey is one of the most senior legal figures in Scotland to advocate the legalisation of heroin and the latest high-profile name to demand a radical change in drugs policy.

Last year, 356 drug-related deaths were recorded in Scotland - 39 more than in 2003. Heroin was involved in two-thirds of the deaths, while methadone, a subscribed heroin substitute, was involved in 80.

Lord McCluskey said: "That is a massive failure of the current way of doing things. Yet we prescribe more of the same. If you want a simple measure of the failure of the present drugs policy, count the number of deaths, year by year. It has gone from zero in the 1970s to one a day.

"If people are addicted to heroin, give them heroin. I'm not suggesting you sell it at newsagents, but if you were to offer it to addicts in a medically controlled setting, there would be no criminal market.

"We've created a huge market for criminals to operate in. I think the drug element in all criminal behaviour is massively greater than we are led to believe. In other countries, drug addiction is treated as a health problem. Here it is treated as a legal problem."

Last week, Tory leadership contender David Cameron broke from party policy by saying the UN should consider legalising drugs, adding that hardcore addicts should be given state-prescribed heroin. "Politicians attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator by posturing with tough policies and calling for crackdown after crackdown," he said. "Drugs policy has been failing for decades."

But last night, some anti-drugs campaigners said legalising heroin would only draw more people into the spiral of narcotics abuse.

Alistair Ramsay, director of Scotland Against Drugs, said there was "a clear academic argument" for legalising heroin on the basis that it ensures people receive purer, less harmful substances.

But he added: "If you take someone with a drug problem out of prison, they will often go over the top and take much higher doses. That suggests that people who use drugs will use as much as they can as often as they can get it. If you make heroin readily available, the amount people will use will go up."

Drugs policy in Scotland is reserved to Westminster and so far the government has resisted calls to legalise heroin.

A Home Office spokesman said: "The government has no intention of legalising the recreational use of any currently controlled drug. Those who advocate legalisation take no account of the consequences of the significant increase in use that would follow legalisation. Individuals are not the only ones affected by drug misuse; their families and communities are damaged as well."