IMAGINE a policy that starts civil wars and funds dictators, spreads disease, undermines all basic civil liberties, stigmatises minorities, shovels billions of public money into a shredder every year while making millionaires of criminal thugs and criminals of schoolkids.

Imagine that another side-effect of this policy was spreading lawlessness and bribery across public administration. Now imagine you found out that almost every politician was promoting this policy without stopping to think about its implications.

Congratulations: you’ve just imagined the War on Drugs.

It’s arguably the most destructive campaign since God plagued Egypt with lice, boils and locusts, but it has outlasted that other American folly, the War on Terror, by decades. Now, like the Bush-Blair doctrine as a whole, it’s dying on its arse.

Even the most conservative parts of the West are slowly moving to decriminalise drugs. America, the nation that invented this Biblical policy disaster, is leading the way, with many states effectively legalising marijuana sales and many more allowing it for medical use. The Irish Republic is opening life-saving injection rooms for heroin addicts and decriminalising the possession of small amounts of drugs. This in a country that still essentially outlaws a woman’s right to choose. So, it’s hardly a policy direction for only the most liberal societies. It just simply makes sense.

Ireland’s brave move comes after a leaked report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime calling for decriminalisation of drugs on public health and human rights grounds. And that’s on top of a recent World Health Organisation study, which concluded “countries with stringent user-level illegal drug policies did not have lower levels of use than countries with liberal ones”. In translation, this means that our big-macho-man anti-drugs policing won’t deter anyone’s consumption.

Why can’t our politicians declare a war on alienation, a war on sexism, a war on the hidden, grinding, spirit-crushing poverty across our communities? Instead, for decades it’s been decreed that drugs are the No.1 scourge in our society. We wasted millions on policing, rather than opening our ears to the advice of drugs charities and addiction support workers.

Legalising cannabis, for example, would bring in plenty of money, according to a leaked government study. If cannabis was treated in the same way as tobacco, it could raise hundreds of millions per year, with additional benefits too, like cutting unnecessary policing. This money could pay for proper drug treatment and rehabilitation in communities seriously blighted by heroin. For me, it’s an absolute no-brainer.

Strangely, in Scotland, we seem to be more conservative than the Republic of Ireland, The Telegraph and the growing consensus of global NGO opinion. However, a welcome shift seems to have happened this week, with campaigners, experts and politicians including Patrick Harvie and Christine Grahame raising their heads on the issue. I’d like to applaud their bravery on this topic.

Admittedly, one real problem is that Scotland has only limited powers to deal with drugs. This is yet another, silent difficulty with the current devolution settlement. The Smith Commission moved quickly to squash the Scottish Greens’ sensible suggestion that drugs should be a devolved issue.

This means we’re moving at a Westminster-style crawl, while other nations are moving swiftly to an inevitable realignment. Once again, Westminster’s backwardness makes it difficult to hold our main parties to account for their damaging policies.

Scottish Labour, predictably, is as monotonously tough on crime as Judge Dredd. No surprise there: governing a one-party state for many decades generally disposes the rulers to a “hang ‘em and flog ‘em” mentality. However, their rationale is strangely limp. Justice spokesperson Graeme Pearson claims that the problem with decriminalising drugs is that it will be too costly to the “public purse”. Is he serious? Criminalisation, growing evidence suggests, has no deterrent effect. But what of dirty needles, poisoned substances, gun-toting dealers, turf wars across working-class communities, endless unnecessary police hours, and millions in lost tax revenue? What about the productivity we lose every year by shunting young people into jail unnecessarily, scarring their career paths for life? Am I missing something, or aren’t we shelling out millions, possibly billions, on these extravagant wastes to feed an outmoded moral consensus that every nation but Britain will probably bin within the next decade?

“We have no plans to support the legalisation or decriminalisation of drugs,” insists the Scottish Government, an entity whose sense of tactical triangulation is always keener than its policy originality. Let’s be honest, Scotland isn’t exactly a “beacon unto nations” here.

I’m certainly not downplaying the risks of drugs. Indeed, drug abuse is part of a generations-old public health epidemic in Scotland’s deprived communities. It’s an issue very close to my heart. I’ve witnessed some of my loved ones experience their darkest days and I’ve watched the heartbreak of addiction. I’ve known people whose lives have been torn apart by dependence but who came through to the other side – not because they were labelled ‘criminals’ or were eventually deterred by heavy policing; instead, they live drug-free lives because they were supported by non-judgmental groups with the good sense to approach habits as health issues, not criminal ones. “Police and Prison” solutions aren’t working. They never will.

So let me be clear, I’m not sitting here in a Bob Marley T-shirt, skinning up as I write, preaching the benefits of all substances. Instead, I’m simply saying we need a much more mature policy approach if we’re ever going to progress as a society.

This issue calls for a risky leadership decision, and Holyrood seems to be enjoying a new-found stasis right now.

Let’s make policy based on reason. Let’s differentiate between heroin and hash – not just bombard generations of young people with “all drugs are bad, mmmkay?” Rather than leave kids in ignorance, we should educate children about real dangers, preach safety, and most of all, keep them away from the corrupt criminals who profit from the underground drug trade. That’s the future. When will Scottish politics wake up to it?

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