The Scottish Government has backed the decriminalisation of all drugs for personal use, focusing instead on treatment for users.

Scotland has the highest drug-related death rate of any country in Europe, with a 5% rise in the first three months of 2023 despite the National Drugs Mission Plan which was introduced in 2022 to try and curb the problem.

One proposal put forward by campaigners is decriminalising prohibited substances for personal use.

That would not make drugs such as heroin and cocaine legal but would see users offered support and treatment rather than being prosecuted.

Portugal decriminalised all drugs in 2001 with its HIV infection rate the highest in Europe, and since drug has declined among the 15-24-year-old population and the infection rate has dropped significantly and from 2000 to 2008, prison populations fell by 16.5 percent.

Rates of drug use have remained consistently below the EU average.

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The Scottish Government has now offered a series of proposals for adopting a similar model, including decriminalisation of all drugs for personal supply progressed as part of a wider review of drug laws, immediate legislative changes to allow us to fully and properly implement harm reduction measures such as supervised drug consumption facilities, drug checking and 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.

The proposals follow recommendations made by the Drug Deaths Taskforce in September 2021.

Drug policy is reserved to Westminster, so the proposed changes could not be enacted without further devolution of powers or after a proposed independence referendum in the event of a yes vote.

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Minister for Drugs Policy Elena Whitham 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.

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“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 move was welcomed by the Law Enforcement Action Partnership Scotland, an organisation of former police officers.

Ian Andrew, a retired police inspector 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.” 

Asked whether Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was likely to grant the request for devolved powers, his official spokesman said: “No. Whilst I haven’t seen those reports I think I’m confident enough to say that there are no plans to alter our tough stance on drugs.”

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves also ruled out the policy.

“The short answer is no,” she told journalists during a visit to Scotland. “I don’t think this sounds like a good policy.

“I find it quite stunning that this would be a priority for the Scottish Government when we’re here today talking about the Tory mortgage bombshell and what we would do to address that.

“We’re here meeting people training to do jobs in the industries of the future.

“We’ve got more than 700,000 people in Scotland on NHS waiting lists – pick an issue.”