SCOTLAND has effectively decriminalised possession of hard drugs like heroin and crack cocaine. But is this going far enough? If drugs are a health problem should they not be legalised, regulated and taken out of the hands of drug gangs?

Last year, the Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain, made a statement to the Scottish Parliament announcing that police were no longer expected to prosecute people for simple possession of Class A drugs. It’s part of the Scottish Government’s attempt to make hard drugs a health matter rather than a criminal one. Scotland has the worst drug mortality in Europe, as the latest figures confirm.

The hope is that decriminalisation will stop users from being sent to prisons, which are positive Walmarts for drug distribution. But herein lies the problem. One of the main difficulties of getting people off drugs is the sheer availability of illegal substances.

Users are prescribed methadone as a substitute for heroin but many just go home and top up with street drugs. These are now cheaper than ever.

Possession of large amounts of Class A drugs is still illegal. But gangs don’t handle large quantities. They hire legions of youngsters carrying small amounts to avoid prosecution. Channel 4’s excellent Top Boy shows how it’s done.

Decriminalisation risks giving the international drug trade a free ride. It leaves the production, marketing and distribution of hard drugs in the hands of international gangs who make more than many small countries.

The Scottish Government has admitted that the war on drugs is officially over. That’s what decriminalisation means. Governments simply don’t have the resources to halt the supply. But decriminalisation will only make drugs cheaper and more available and could be the worst of both worlds.

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If hard drugs were legalised they could at least be regulated. Street heroin would largely disappear and the quality could be controlled and consumption managed by price. After all, alcohol kills more people than heroin, but it is legal.

Nicola Sturgeon wants the power to set up drug consumption rooms. But the drugs consumed there will be largely provided by pushers. Legalised heroin could be administered by doctors in controlled amounts with mandatory treatment for addicts.

Decriminalisation has already taken us far down this route. Scotland is now a kind of tolerance zone for heroin and crack cocaine. Possession of hard drugs for personal use is effectively penalty-free.

No sensible useer need worry about being prosecuted. No sensible drug pusher need fear arrest. At worst they will be forced to attend a drug education programme or do community service.

Drugs are a highly competitive business and the street price of cocaine is falling year on year as international cartels become more efficient. In Mexico, illegal drug exports are one of the country’s main export earners. Colombian cartels are targeting Europe, where prices are higher than in the US and there is less risk of jail.

Perhaps it is time to think the unthinkable and kill the business of drugs by ending the market for drugs.