Anas Sarwar rules out Labour devolution of drug laws to help tackle drug death crisis

Scottish Labour leader says existing powers are enough to tackle the crisis.

Anas Sarwar has said he does not believe Holyrood requires more powers to adequately tackle the drugs deaths crisis, putting him on a collision course with some high-profile campaigners.

The Scottish Labour leader said he believed existing powers sat with the Lord Advocate are sufficient to allow safe consumption rooms and other measures to happen, stating the crisis did not need to become a constitutional issue.

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However, his comments sparked fury from one high profile campaigner, Peter Krykant, who said he was “shocked” and demanded Labour “got on board with the evidence rather than next year’s general election tougher-than-the-Tories rhetoric”.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has rejected the devolution of drugs powers to help tackle Scotland's drug death crisis.Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has rejected the devolution of drugs powers to help tackle Scotland's drug death crisis.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has rejected the devolution of drugs powers to help tackle Scotland's drug death crisis.

The SNP also labelled the comments “shameful”.

Mr Sarwar’s comments come a week after the Scottish Government announced proposals to decriminalise drugs for personal use, calling on the powers to do so to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament or for Westminster to legislate to change the UK’s drugs laws.

The proposals were killed within an hour of them being announced after both the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson and the Labour shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, poured cold water on the plans.

Pressed on what his solution to Scotland’s record drugs deaths, Mr Sarwar told The Scotsman that there was no “silver bullet”.

He said: “I think anyone that tells you there is a silver bullet solution to our drugs death crisis is not telling you the truth.

"It is a multi-spoke response that we need and I think that is of course partly around viewing this as a public health emergency rather than a criminal justice emergency, I think that does mean using the powers that the Lord Advocate has already demonstrated around safe consumption rooms, to have a presumption against prosecution. greater funding for rehabilitation services, greater funding for alcohol and drug partnerships, greater funding for mental health.

"I don’t think that requires the devolution of drugs laws and or decriminalisation across the UK.

"The one fact that the SNP cannot escape from is we have the exact same drugs laws as the rest of the UK but we have three-times as many drugs deaths. I’m not saying that doesn’t meant the law isn’t part of the problem, but it can’t be all of the problem.”

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He added that Scotland needs “flexibility” but that the Lord Advocate had made it clear that “we don’t require the devolution of those powers”.

Challenged on the fact this meant he was on the other side of the argument to campaigners, including Mr Krykant, who has set up a safe consumption facility in a converted ambulance, supported by Labour MSP, Paul Sweeney, Mr Sarwar admitted he was.

He said: “Yes, I’m on a different side from Peter Krykant because I saw a comment from Peter where he said that drugs weren’t dangerous, but the laws were dangerous. Actually, drugs are dangerous. Try telling people that have been blighted by drugs that they’re not dangerous or families who have lost loved ones because of drugs that they’re not dangerous, of course drugs are dangerous.

"But does there need to be a different approach to make it about public health, absolutely.”

Mr Sarwar added: "I think that [safe consumption rooms, presumption against prosecution, rehabilitation services] can be without it becoming the usual constitutional fight between the UK and Scottish government.

"I don’t think we need to have that constitutional fight, I think many of the things that the Scottish Government – if they are well intentioned – want to do, they can do within the existing settlement, if not all the things they want to do.”

Mr Krykant said: “Anas must be aware I have lost many loved ones and friends, I have stood over coffins crying and those people, my loved ones are from working class communities, areas ravished by poverty that Labour should be standing up for, instead he would rather people with drug dependency issues be pushed into the margins of society and punished.

“I too have overdosed and I am lucky to have survived, fear of criminalisation means people like me use alone, don’t ask for help. Under the Misuse of Drugs Act we can’t set up drug checking, powers are limited for diamorphine treatment and we are having to try and work round laws for overdose prevention sites, in operation for nearly 40 years and now in over 16 countries.

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“Anas should leave the comments about drug policy to Paul Sweeney, I’m greatly offended by his comments, let’s be clear, drugs laws make drugs more dangerous, its time Labour got on board with the evidence rather than next year’s general election tougher-than-the-Tories rhetoric.”

SNP MSP Jackie Dunbar said the dismissal of the proposals from the Scottish Government meant Labour were using the drug deaths crisis as a “political football”.

She said: “It's shameful for Labour to prioritise protecting a broken Westminster system over implementing realistic reforms to our drug policy system.

"Like the Tories, Labour has dismissed the Scottish Government's ambitious and radical solutions to tackle the tragic drug deaths crisis we face without giving them any consideration - happy to use this serious issue as a political football which even their own members are disappointed by.

"If no Westminster party is willing to support the SNP's efforts to a society where problematic drug use is treated as a health matter - not a criminal one - then it is vital Scotland's gets control over drug policy laws so that we can tackle this crisis head on."



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