PERSONAL use of drugs should be decriminalised by the UK Government or powers to do so should be devolved, a Scottish minister has insisted.

The Scottish Government has called on Westminster to implement the policy in a new paper on drug law reform.

The move would allow people found in possession of drugs to be treated and supported rather than criminalised and excluded, Drugs Policy Minister Elena Whitham has said.

Decriminalisation would also mean that without a criminal record, people in recovery would have a better chance of employment, the Scottish Government has argued.

Former police officers have welcomed the move saying decriminalisation will save lives and make communities safer.

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Ian Andrew, a retired police inspector in Strathclyde said:  “I have over 32 years of policing experience and in that time I was the person tasked with giving families the news that no one wants to hear, that their loved one has passed away from drugs.

"I’ve been the person who’s broken down the door only to find a body that no one knew was missing. I’ll never, ever forget the face of grief and pain - I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. It is for these inherently personal reasons, as well as my professional perspective, that I welcome the proposals made by the Scottish Government."

"New policies can save lives, they can make our communities safer - when you’ve had three decades worth of law enforcement service such as I have then words cannot do justice to how monumentally important this moment is for Scotland’s communal health.” 

Simon McLean, a retired detective in serious crime and drugs squads, added:  “I have seen first-hand the harms of punitive drug laws. I know the face of organised crime.

"It was my job to disrupt supply chains and arrest the kingpins. The truth is, rather counterintuitively, our drug laws made our streets more dangerous and gifted millions to gangsters. As soon as we put down one drug supply chain another pops up in its place. 

“The reforms proposed can lead us out of this tragic situation."

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The document outlines measures which could be implemented through further devolution, independence, or changes enacted immediately by the UK Government to support the work being done within the Scottish Parliament's existing powers to reduce drug deaths.

Proposals include decriminalisation of all drugs for personal supply progressed as part of a wider review of drug laws and immediate legislative changes to allow the Scottish Government to implement supervised drug consumption facilities.

The National: Drug consumption rooms have longed been backed by the Scottish Government but it lacks the powers to introduce themDrug consumption rooms have longed been backed by the Scottish Government but it lacks the powers to introduce them (Image: Getty Images)

Whitham has also suggested introducing increased access to the life saving drug naloxone and a roadmap for further exploration of drug law reform, focused on evidence and the reduction of harm, including an update of the drug classification system to be based on harms caused. 

Whitham said she realises the Government's support for decriminalistion of personal drug use will spark debate but is convinced it will save lives.

She said: “These are ambitious and radical proposals, grounded in evidence, that will help save lives.

“We want to create a society where problematic drug use is treated as a health, not a criminal matter, reducing stigma and discrimination and enabling the person to recover and contribute positively to society.

"While we know these proposals will spark debate, they are in line with our public health approach and would further our national mission to improve and save lives.

“We are working hard within the powers we have to reduce drug deaths, and while there is more we need to do, our approach is simply at odds with the Westminster legislation we must operate within.

“These policies could be implemented by the Scottish Government through the devolution of further, specific powers to Holyrood including the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 - or through independence. An immediate way for these policies to be enacted would be for the UK Government to use its existing powers to change its drug laws.

“Scotland needs a caring, compassionate and human rights informed drugs policy, with public health and the reduction of harm as its underlying principles, and we are ready to work with the UK Government to put into practice this progressive policy.”

The Scottish Government has long been in favour of drugs consumption rooms, which would provide a safe area with medical supervision for people struggling with addiction to take drugs.

But the UK Government has stood against the idea, refusing to grant a waiver to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 that would allow for the users and staff to be protected from prosecution.

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, said: “In a just Scotland, no-one would lose their life to drug addiction and everyone would have quick and efficient access to addiction treatment that works for them.

“It’s welcome that the Scottish Government is making further moves towards treating drug use as a public health issue. We can now make sure that means extra targeted investment in deprived communities, where people are around 18 times more likely to experience problem drug use, compared to those in the least deprived communities.

“And we must remember that we can’t tackle drug deaths and addiction without tackling poverty. That means redesigning our economy so that people are able to access decent work, as well as strengthening and renewing our social security system and public services, so that people have the income they need to live in dignity and security.”