Kenny MacAskill calls for drug policy to be devolved

Kenny MacAskill . Picture : Jane Barlow
Kenny MacAskill . Picture : Jane Barlow
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A former justice secretary has said drugs policy should be devolved to Scotland to allow for a major rethink.

Kenny MacAskill said drugs were increasingly being treated as a health and social issue elsewhere rather than the sole preserve of law enforcement.

It’s bad enough that police want to decriminalise cannabis by the back door but now it seems some senior figures in the SNP want to go even further

Margaret Mitchell

He pointed to other jurisdictions where a different approach was being taken, including Portugal, Latin America and some US states.

The SNP MSP for Edinburgh Eastern has called for a commission to carry out a review and set out a “modern drugs policy for Scotland”.

The Scottish Government said it had no plans to support the legalisation or decriminalisation of drugs even if the relevant powers were transferred.

Mr MacAskill said: “A different approach is now being explored not simply in some European nations like Portugal and in Latin America, but also in many states in the USA.

“Some have chosen to legalise some substances such as cannabis, others have decriminalised minor possession and sought to treat addicts whilst maintaining enforcement against the major drug trade.

“In all those jurisdictions, though, there has been a recognition that the ‘war on drugs’ has failed.

“The direction is for drugs policy to be no longer primarily a law enforcement issue but become predominately a health and social one.”

Mr MacAskill, who was replaced as justice secretary by Michael Matheson last year, said the devolution of drugs policy to the Scottish Parliament was overdue.

The MSP, who is standing down at next year’s Holyrood election, continued: “A commission of the great and the good in our society should be established to review what is one of the great social-ills of our time.

“They should be charged with setting the legislative base for a modern drugs policy for Scotland.

“There will still have to be laws and enforcement against those who make millions out of human misery must be maintained.

“The extent and manner can be debated but the direction of travel should mirror that now being pursued elsewhere: predicated more on prevention than punishment and pursuing those profiting whilst helping those afflicted.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The classification of drugs is currently reserved to Westminster - however, even should we gain responsibility for the issue, we have no plans to support the legalisation or decriminalisation of drugs.

“The medicinal use of drugs is a separate issue, which is also currently reserved to Westminster.”

Earlier this month, Police Scotland said some of those caught with small amounts of cannabis may be given written warnings instead of being charged.

Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell said: “It’s bad enough that police want to decriminalise cannabis by the back door but now it seems some senior figures in the SNP want to go even further.

“This is another indication of the SNP’s chaotic handling of Scotland’s criminal justice system.”

Labour justice spokesman Graeme Pearson said: “Kenny MacAskill had years as justice secretary to reform how our justice system works.

“His proposals today, with one foot out the door of Holyrood, are wrong and potentially dangerous.

“In my view, recent changes to possession of cannabis to result in fixed warnings sends out a dangerous signal in the long-term.”

Mr MacAskill’s comments were welcomed by John Finnie, justice spokesman for the Scottish Greens, who said: “Our drug laws are dated and, in most instances, simply serve to criminalise, and thereby affect the life chances of countless otherwise law-abiding folk.

“We need an informed debate, not one based on ignorance and prejudice, rather one which treats drugs for what they are: education and health matters.”

SEE ALSO: Scotland’s war on drugs is a ‘record of failure’