I HAVE been a long-time advocate for progressive policies that genuinely benefit our communities. The issue of drug policy reform is one that resonates deeply because I have lost friends and family to drug misuse and see the repercussions for many today.

Decriminalising drugs for personal use could transform lives, safeguard communities and shift our understanding of drug misuse from a criminal issue to a health one.

Our Drug Policy Minister, Elena Whitham, recently made a compelling case for decriminalisation of drugs for personal use.

READ MORE: Scottish Government backs decriminalisation of personal drug use

This policy shift, she argued, would not only allow individuals found in possession of drugs to receive necessary treatment and support, but also create better employment opportunities for those in recovery by keeping their criminal records clean. Portugal, decriminalised personal drug use in 2001. It has seen significant drops in drug-related deaths, HIV infection rates and drug-related crimes. More people seek out treatment, safe in the knowledge they will be met with care, not punishment.

There’s another important point Whitham made, which deserves emphasis. With drug laws currently not devolved to Scotland, we have limited control over policies affecting our communities directly.

With independence, we could customise our drug policy to reflect the unique needs and circumstances of the Scottish people.

The Scottish Government has put forward a comprehensive proposal for drug law reform that goes beyond mere decriminalisation. Proposals include supervised drug consumption facilities, which have been successful in countries such as Switzerland and Canada, reducing the harms associated with drug misuse and providing a bridge to treatment services.

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Another critical suggestion is the increased access to the life-saving drug naloxone, used to reverse the effects of opioid overdose. In British Columbia, Canada, which has grappled with an opioid crisis, the widespread availability of naloxone has prevented countless deaths.

The crux of the Scottish Government’s reform proposals is the review and reclassification of drugs based on the harm they cause.

This evidence-based approach is crucial in ensuring policies effectively address the reality of drug misuse and its consequences, aligning with models such as that of the Netherlands, where drug laws are designed and implemented based on scientific research.

However, reforming drug policy is not a magic bullet. It must be complemented by a comprehensive network of support – from robust harm reduction services to a broad range of treatment options, social support services and initiatives tackling poverty and social inequality, the root causes of drug misuse.

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The human cost of our current drug laws is too high. We have all seen or heard of someone whose life was turned upside down because of a struggle with drugs. I think back to the 1990s, to friends who were swallowed whole by the world of drugs, their lives needlessly cut short or forever marked by the weight of a criminal record.

The thought of what might have been different with more progressive laws in place is both haunting and motivating. I particularly think of friends and family who should be here today to tell the story of recovery. I witnessed first-hand the dismissal and stigma they received, which exacerbated their struggles.

A shift in drug policy could be the difference between life and death, between a one-time mistake and a lifelong criminal record, between stigma and compassion. It’s a shift that recognises that drug misuse is not a failure of character but a health issue.

The objective of any policy reform should be to create a society where everyone has the chance to live a healthy, fulfilling life. Decriminalisation, as part of a broader, holistic approach to drug misuse, has the potential to transform not just individual lives but also communities.

It’s clear that the UK’s hard-line, punitive “war on drugs” approach has been a misguided endeavour. With more than half a century of enforcement-led policy under our belts, we find ourselves at an impasse, burdened with a legacy of damaging impacts, yet stubbornly resistant to change.

It’s a disheartening reality that while drug-related harms continue to ravage our communities, UK policies remain resolute in their prioritisation of punishment over support. This is pure ideology based on ignorance.

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The “war on drugs” has propagated an unrelenting cycle of criminalisation. Tens of thousands find themselves ensnared in the criminal justice system each year; their futures blighted by the stigma of a criminal record.

Yet, this incessant pursuit of punishment has done little to stem the tide of drug misuse. Instead, it has marginalised users, pushing them further away from the very services that could help them on a path towards recovery.

An even more insidious aspect of the “war on drugs” is its disproportionate effect on society’s most vulnerable. UK drug policies have been shown to disproportionately target poorer communities, exacerbating social inequalities and trapping individuals in a seemingly inescapable cycle of poverty and drug misuse.

Resources that could be directed towards prevention, treatment, and harm reduction services are siphoned off to maintain our relentless yet fruitless pursuit of a drug-free society. If the UK truly wishes to address its drug crisis, we need to recognise that our current approach is not only failing but actively causing harm. It’s time we recalibrate our policies towards an evidence-based, compassionate, and health-centred approach.

The steps towards drug policy reform outlined by Whitham are not just progressive, they’re pragmatic and rooted in evidence from around the world. They signal a move towards a Scotland that acknowledges the complexities of drug misuse, that favours support over punishment, and that puts the wellbeing of its people at the forefront.

This is yet another reason why Scotland should be free and independent to make choices that best serve its people.