A MINISTER who personally believes that the possession of drugs should be decriminalised has been named as the next moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

Reverend Iain Greenshields, who believes addiction should be treated as a public health issue, said he is “honoured” to have been nominated to take up the 12-month ambassador role in May of 22.

The 67-year-old minister of St Margaret’s Community Church in Dunfermline, Fife, said locking up people who are often “self-medicating” to cope with psychological challenges did not work and instead they should be treated in high-quality residential rehabilitation centres.

Speaking for himself, the moderator designate believes that the approach would be of personal benefit to the individuals concerned whilst also being beneficial to society as a whole.

He said his views are based on his experiences over many years supporting people through church outreach projects and in his role as a prison chaplain as well as work in psychiatric chaplaincy.

Greenshields, who became a Christian at the age of 22 and was ordained in 1984, said: “I am honoured and humbled to have been chosen as moderator designate and I aim to represent the Church and God in a way that is positive, instructive and hopeful.

“There are a great many challenges facing our society today including climate change, poverty, mental health, social isolation, addiction and the Church is active in supporting those in genuine need.

“Ultimately the greatest need in our society is the spiritual vacuum that exists in the lives of so many.”

Greenshields welcomed a recent announcement from Scotland’s Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain QC, that people in personal possession of Class A drugs could receive a police warning rather than facing prosecution.

“Whilst I have the utmost sympathy for victims of crime who may have been targeted in order for people to get their hands on drugs, this is a positive development,” he said.

“I really believe that prison is not the answer for the vast majority of people who are behind bars because of illegal drug issues and we have to find another way to recover their lives.

“When you look into the background of those who take drugs, you realise it is largely about self-medicating to treat some kind of trauma.

“They are in a desperate situation and what is needed is not criminalising them and sending them to prison, but ensuring that they get the best rehabilitation support possible.

“This can only be for the betterment of society.

“It will require extensive investment in services but I firmly believe that if you can send someone to prison for a year, why can’t you send them to rehab for the same length of time as an alternative?”

Greenshields spent eight years serving as a chaplain at the former Longriggend Young Offenders’ Institution in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire and nearby Shotts Prison.

“My view on decriminalisation is a personal one and it is not the official position of the Church,” he said.

“I realise that some people will throw their hands up in horror but I am not saying I support drugs, I am just being realistic and pragmatic about the situation.”

Greenshields said St Margaret’s Community Church hosts addiction support groups in the building free of charge and employs a dedicated outreach worker, a role currently held by his son, Alistair.

He said the congregation could do much more to help people if additional public funds were available.

A total of 1339 people died of drug misuse in Scotland last year, with the country seeing a record number of deaths for the seventh year in a row.

Official figures released by the Scottish Government last month revealed that there were 722 drug related deaths between January and June, 2021.

A separate set of statistics showed that the re-offending rate of people convicted of drugs offences within one year increased by 11% in 2018-19 in comparison to the previous year.

Born and brought up in the Drumchapel area of Glasgow, Greenshields is married with six children.