DOUGLAS Ross has been branded "out of step" with global evidence on drug policy by a charity chief after a series of claims on decriminalisation live on LBC.

The Scottish Tory leader was accused of showcasing “his ignorance on drugs policy” with his commentary.

On LBC News on Tuesday, following the publication of figures showing that 1051 people died a drug-related death in 2022, Ross questioned the Scottish Governments decriminalisation policy - asking “how is putting more drugs on the streets of Scotland going to reduce our drug deaths?”

It comes after the Scottish Government announced in July that it was backing the decriminalisation of personal drug use in order to shift the issue from a criminal problem to a health one and “help save lives”. However, most legislation on drug legality is reserved to Westminster.

The National: Douglas Ross has not yet campaigned in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West seat (Jane Barlow/PA)

Despite reporting to the contrary, decriminalisation is not equivalent to legalisation. Drugs would still be controlled substances, but users would face health interventions rather than criminal sanctions.

Independent research has shown that countries like Portugal have seen "successful" results from decriminalisation, with reduced rates of problematic drug use, fewer drug-related arrests and fewer drug-related deaths.

On Tuesday, Ross was asked if drugs have been "effectively" decriminalised in parts of Scotland as a result of the Government's approach. 

He replied: “No, absolutely not. I am the husband of a police officer and I know our police do outstanding work to deter and to remove drugs from our street’s day in, day out.

“But I find it a ridiculous policy aim of the Scottish Government to decriminalise drugs - how is putting more drugs on the streets of Scotland going to reduce our drug deaths?”

He further called on the Government to back his Right to Recovery Bill, rather than decriminalising drug use in Scotland.

READ MORE: Calls for decriminalisation in wake of Scottish drugs deaths figures

Alex Feis-Bryce, CEO of Transform Drug Policy Foundation, condemned Ross's comments.

The CEO said: "Decriminalisation is a vital condition for any meaningful public health response to drugs. Criminalisation does not reduce drug-related harms, it actively exacerbates them.

“The 2019 Common Position Statement from the United Nations Chief Executives Board (CEB), chaired by the UN Secretary General and representing all 31 UN agencies, including the World Health Organization (WHO) and UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), has expressed strong and unanimous support for the decriminalisation of possession and use of drugs. The statement calls on member states to “promote alternatives to conviction and punishment in appropriate cases, including the decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use”.

“Douglas Ross’ comments put him out of step with the overwhelming international evidence. This is genuinely an issue of life and death. It’s about time politicians used their platform to promote evidence-based and life-saving policies rather than pandering to ‘tough-talking’ populism or engaging in political point scoring."

READ MORE: Scotland's drug decriminalisation plan: What is it and could it work?

The Scottish Government's decriminalisation policy bid has received support from both the Scottish Liberal Democrats and Greens, with Labour split on their support in July.

Scottish Labour MSP Mercedes Villalba called the Scottish Government “right to prioritise treatment and support over criminalisation and exclusion”, while her colleague Monica Lennon warned Keir Starmer that the war on drugs had “failed”. MSP Paul Sweeney has assisted Peter Krykant, a leading campaigner who set up a safe consumption facility in a converted ambulance.

Representatives from both the LibDems and Greens condemned Ross's comments concerning the policy.

Scottish Liberal Democrat drugs spokesperson Ben Lawrie reacted to the comments by saying Ross had “simply exposed his ignorance on drugs policy”.

"[It's] hard to take any opinion of his seriously when he seems to completely disregard the fact that drug misuse is inextricably linked to mental health, poverty and many other socio-economic factors," said Lawrie.

“Scotland’s drug death crisis is a public health emergency; it is not a chance to lock people up and throw away the key.

“Decriminalisation is needed so that we can divert people into education, treatment, and recovery. This is the kind of compassionate and pragmatic approach that will allow us to turn a corner in this emergency.”

READ MORE: Scottish drug misuse deaths decrease to lowest rate since 2017

Greens MSP Gillian Mackay added that the Scottish Conservative leader should “reconsider these ill-judged remarks and stop spreading misinformation and fear”.

She went on: "Drug addiction is a public health issue and should be treated as one.

"The Tories can learn a lot from looking to countries such as Portugal, who have shown that decriminalisation of personal possession and a change to a health-led approach for drug policy can offer support to people who need it and reduce the stigma with addiction.

"The war on drugs has been a disaster. Health is already devolved to the Scottish Parliament. With full power over drug legislation, we can move on from the failed policies of the past and focus on harm reduction and undoing the damage that has been done."

Drugs and Alcohol Policy Minister Elena Whitham said: “The international evidence shows that decriminalisation does not significantly increase drug use or availability. What it does do is reduce stigma, remove barriers to treatment and reduce harm.

“We are clear that stigma kills. People already use drugs despite the criminal sanctions in place and in fact the UN recently highlighted that drug use continues to grow despite the harms caused. It is therefore incumbent on us to do everything we can to reduce those harms regardless of the moral debate.”