AS a police officer, Allan Dorans MP attended the aftermath of drug overdoses and broke up dealing rings.

The ex-CID man left his west coast mining village to join London’s Metropolitan Police shortly after the Misuse of Drugs Act became law in 1971. Fifty years after its introduction, the former detective inspector says much of what he was asked to do was wrong and Westminster-set drug laws must be scrapped and remade.

This, he says, is the only way to undo the harm they’ve caused and stop needless deaths.

Writing in today’s Sunday National, Dorans says police themselves can drive the change by choosing not to criminalise casual users for personal possession.

“People are going to take drugs irrespective of the law,” he says. “You can’t arrest your way out of that.” The eldest of nine, Dorans was just 16 when he left Dailly in South Ayrshire to become a cadet in London. He’d asked about joining up in Scotland first, but a young officer in Ayr Police Station told him “all we do is make tea” and he wanted action, not a desk job.

Qualified by the age of 19, he reached the rank of detective inspector within less than a decade. “I volunteered for absolutely everything that came up,” he says. “I was the first person out on the street or in the car responding.” Much of his early shifts were spent arresting people for drug possession and taking them to court. It was, he reflects, “a complete and utter waste of time”.

“That was my job, that was what I was there to do, that was the instructions,” he says. “On reflection, I have great concerns about how it was applied and how it continues to be applied.

“There was no mercy, no compassion, no discretion – a tiny bit of herbal cannabis, they were arrested and that was it,” the 65-year-old says. “I believed that was what society wanted – drug dealers caught and taken to court. My attitude towards casual drug users has changed significantly. Millions of people are quietly taking drugs without causing anyone any harm.”

The National:

Allan Dorans aged 19

Drugs laws are reserved to Westminster, where Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock MP Dorans – who went on to become head of personnel for Butlins after leaving the force – is the SNP’s policing spokesperson. Delegates at the party’s 2019 autumn conference formally called for those powers to be devolved to Holyrood to enable the “decriminalisation of possession and consumption of controlled drugs”, as well as the establishment of regulated safer consumption rooms. In the same year, a record1264 deaths in Scotland were drug-related. The mortality rate is the worst in Europe.

Nicola Sturgeon’s acknowledged her government “should have done more” and last week Angela Constance, Minister for Drugs Policy, set out a new focus on helping users access treatment. The Scottish Government and the Greens both called for the transfer of powers to Holyrood. They also urged UK ministers to allow drug checking in Scotland to mitigate risks and restrictions on the ability to own pill presses.

READ MORE: Why police can write off Misuse of Drugs Act Act before law change

DORANS knew nothing about drugs until he got to London. In his coal mining community, the “worst problem” was alcohol. The next few years were to be a steep learning curve, and Dorans says much of it “stays with you”.

He now backs the establishment of safer consumption rooms – something blocked in Scotland by Westminster – to cut drug deaths and says the Scottish Government’s shift towards a public health approach to drug misuse is the right call.

“I’ve been to overdoses with people who had needles left in their arms,” he says. “I have a strong aversion to drug dealers. They should be the target, rather than the casual user. The social welfare approach has been very successfully used by other countries.”

These include Portugal, which decriminalised the possession and consumption of controlled drugs in 2001 after a heroin crisis overwhelmed services. Users found with a personal supply are referred to health and support services in a radical overhaul that’s dramatically reduced drug-related deaths.

This week UK Policing Minister Kit Malthouse acknowledged that “any drug-related death is a tragedy”, adding: “This government’s approach to them remains clear – we must prevent drug misuse in our communities and support people through treatment and recovery.

“We have no plans to legalise illicit drugs. Legalisation would not eliminate the crime committed by the trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery this can cause to families and society.”

READ MORE: No shift’ towards use of illicit drugs after minimum pricing on alcohol began

Dorans says the horrific death toll is part of the wider harm caused through the Misuse of Drugs Act. He rails against attitudes that see users as “junkies and wasters and smackheads” and the way young black men have been disproportionately affected by the Act through the stop-and-search policy. He recalls how crowds would gather when young black men were stopped in the street, leading to confrontations, and regrets the fact that counselling or information was not routinely offered.

“Because of possession of a small bit of cannabis, a person would end up with a criminal conviction which would prevent them from applying for some professions or getting a visa to go to places like America,” he says.

It also cost Butlins “good people” during his tenure, he tells the Sunday National. Most of the 650 staff he oversaw were aged 18-25. “Drugs were a problem amongst the staff and the guests,” he says. “We dismissed people straight away, it was non-negotiable. We had to have a zero-tolerance approach because they were looking after people, and there were children.”

The grandfather says he’s never taken drugs, but “the vast majority who take drugs never come into contact with the police and they do so relatively safely, although there’s a danger of addiction”. “I know someone who smokes a joint every night to go to sleep and has done for 30 years,” he goes on. “He’d be considered a criminal when he’s an upstanding member of the community.”