DELEGATES at the SNP Conference have backed calls to reform Scottish drugs laws, including looking at the possibility of legalisation.

An initial motion calling on the party to approach “substance misuse as a public health issue rather than a criminal matter” that would have committed the SNP to conducting a comprehensive review was amended to call for powers over drugs to be devolved from Westminster to Holyrood.

This, the delegates argued, would allow the party to look at “all options for harm reduction, including drug classification, decriminalisation, legislation, and regulation.”

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Josh Mennie, who worked on both motions, said: “There must be change and we must begin to champion this change.”

He was supported by Scottish Government public health minister Aileen Campbell, who said the sheer record number of drug deaths for 2016, reported earlier this year, showed change was desperately needed.

“We should never forget this figure represents 867 families bereaved, loss of potential, and lives devastated.

“It’s a figure that weighs heavily on me and it means we simply can’t continue as we have. That’s why in July I announced that we would refresh our approach to substance misuse.”

She added a recent NHS report into Scotland’s problem drug users identified a cohort of people who were thrown on the scrap heap in the 80s.

“Austerity politics of 30 years ago are impacting on us now in the most tragic way, and should serve as the most stark reminder to those peddling austerity now of the problems they will be potentially storing up if they continue to take hope away from generations.”

There was an attempt to have the motion remitted back by SNP member Donald Forbes who argued that the motion was “controversial” and contested the amount of evidence available.

“It only takes one person to take a substance once for there to be an irreversible reaction that could have fatal consequences,” he argued.

Others argued that the SNP should support the motion simply as it called for more powers to be devolved from Westminster.

Advocate Lachlan McNeill said: ‘None of us know what shape a radically reformed approach to addressing the problem caused by drug addiction will take. One thing is absolutely clear, whatever shape that radically altered approach takes, implementing it will require the capacity to amend legislation in areas where we do not presently have control.”

The move was welcomed by drugs charities. Martin Powell of Transform Drugs Foundation said: “The current approach to drugs is a death sentence for hundreds of Scots each year.

“Given the UK Government is leaving these people to die, we applaud the SNP Conference for voting to examine new approaches that have slashed drug death rates and protected communities in other countries, including strict legal regulation so doctors and pharmacists control drugs not gangsters, and stopping criminalising people with drug problems.

“Now the SNP government must deliver the promised review without delay.”