Lib Dems react to “empty” announcement on drugs policy change

This week, a landmark announcement from the Lord Advocate means that people caught in possession of a Class A drug could be given a warning rather than prosecuted and instead referred to support services.

From The Guardian:

Individuals caught in possession of class A drugs in Scotland could be issued with a police warning rather than facing prosecution, in a significant policy shift announced by the country’s new lord advocate as a direct response to the ongoing drug death crisis.

Dorothy Bain, who was appointed to the role in June, said the decision to give police discretion over class A drug offences did not amount to decriminalisation but told MSPs there was “no one size fits all response” to dealing with drug addiction.

She added that the policy did not extend to drug supply offences and that neither offering a recorded police warning nor reporting a case to the procurator fiscal prevents an officer referring a vulnerable person to support services.

Scottish Lib Dem Leader Alex Cole-Hamilton says that this is not enough to address the crisis:

Scottish Liberal Democrat requested this statement back in June, and I was grateful to see her here today, despite the empty answer.

The government has insisted for years that diversion has been an important response, but we’ve just discovered today that it only happened 57 times in 2017/18.

The number of people imprisoned for possession only is the same now as the number we saw decade ago. The SNP are failing to turn policies into practice once again.

Thousands of children are affected by parental imprisonment and drug misuse. It is time the SNP starts acting and effectively supporting these families.

Today’s statement cannot be the be all and end all of reform. We need safe consumption rooms and serious policy reform as demanded by Peter Krykant and others alongside the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Our Drugs Crisis spokesperson Ben Lawrie spoke to GB News about why more was needed:

Back in March, my friend Tracy’s 20 year old son died from an overdose of street valium. Nathan had had many run-ins with the police, prisons and courts over the years, but very little in the way of actual help to deal with his addiction. Tracy has spoken to the media on several occasions since to raise awareness of the reality of drug addiction. She allowed the BBC to film Nathan’s funeral in April.

On Friday she told the Daily Record that Nathan’s last involvement with the Police had been just two days before he died:

I firmly believe that if Nathan got the help he needed by the right professionals he could be here today.

I begged police to make interventions with him when he was a teenager, to get him out of the way of drug dealers.

But the bottom line with them was always the same.

They never discussed diverting him to treatment or doing anything other than arrest people.

I just feel that if we had arrived at where we are today and there were proper professionals who understand trauma able to speak to him, he could have had a fighting chance.

I’ve seen Tracy fight so hard for Nathan over the years. She could not have done any more for him.  Her fight continues to get others the support they need before it is too late.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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6 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 26th Sep '21 - 12:56pm

    It is unacceptable that the UK government refuses to allow safe consumption rooms to be established when medical experts and the Scottish government believes that this is a crucial step in tackling the drug misuse crisis in the country. I trust the Liberal Democrats will be demanding that Drugs policy is devolved to Holyrood if the UK government continues to refuse to allow this policy initiative.

  • Empty??

    Further from the Guardian…David Liddell, the chief executive of Scottish Drugs Forum, welcomed the announcement: saying, “The extension of recorded police warnings to all substances reflects a determination to stop the differentiation between substances which is often based on prejudice and class concerns. The extension of diversion from prosecution for crimes associated with problem drug use takes us closer to having a criminal justice system that can deal more effectively with supporting people away from criminal activity.”

    Politics.co says” Scotland made enormous strides towards implementing a drugs policy that is rooted in health and not criminalisation, doing so off the back of soaring drug deaths that have risen year on year for the past 8 years. Just 24 hours later, Sir Keir Starmer said that was “probably the right thing to do.”

    THe ‘Green Party’, too, welcomed the announcement…

    Daily Record….Scotland’s drug policy rethink is a massive step forward; “The measure – effectively decriminalising possession of personal drugs – is the only way we will finally get to grips with the drugs death crisis in Scotland.”

    and, predictably…The announcement prompted an immediate backlash from the Scottish Conservatives who described it as “de-facto decriminalisation by the back door” of drugs such as heroin, crystal meth and crack cocaine.

    I’m of the belief that if the SNP produced a completely non-polluting car the LibDems would criticise it’s colour..

  • Oh come on, Alex. Dorothy Bain QC was only appointed as Lord Advocate on 22 June – just thirteen weeks ago. You’ve got to lay the first brick to build a wall.

    I’m very sorry to hear about Caron’s friend’s son. We are all diminished by this.

  • John Marriott 26th Sep '21 - 3:50pm

    1 Repeal the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act – it’s clearly not working
    2 Decriminalise the possession of drugs for personal use – use the Portuguese example
    3 Treat addiction as an illness – Portugal again
    4 Re establish the concept of the ‘Registered Drug Addict’
    5 Stop gloating over Scotland’s predicament – it could be us in England next!

    How’s that for starters?

  • @ John Marriott “Stop gloating over Scotland’s predicament – it could be us in England next !” Sadly, very true, John. ………

    “Drug-related deaths hit record high in England and Wales …https://news.sky.com › story › drug-related-deaths-hit-rise ……
    2 Sept 2021 — Overall rates of drug-related deaths have risen from 49.4 deaths per million in 2010 to 79.5 deaths per million in 2020, a rise of 60.9%”.

  • This announcement is a step in the right direction, but many, many more steps are needed.

    It continues to infuriate that the Scottish Government claim they can’t do things they clearly could do, all the while sticking their fingers in their ears over the things they very, very definitely could be doing.

    Experts point out that simply not prosecuting people who are in possession of drugs is not enough. They must be given the choice of proper support, which means proper investment. It will be great if the police opt to direct problem drug users towards help, but that help must be there. As things stand, there’s inadequate treatment facilities for people with addiction problems for those who are already desperate for help and don’t need directed towards it following an arrest.

    It’s notable that this announcement was possible after all. We’ve been saying for age that it didn’t require Westminster to change the law to allow this. There was a similar, half-hearted announcement regarding Peter Krykant’s work, but they still put him through months of misery, forcing him to point out that there was no obligation to prosecute him unless they were particularly keen to do so.

    Of course, there are things that can and should be changes at the Westminster level, but it is Scotland with by far the worst drug deaths, and the Scottish Government is in the best position to treat the drugs death emergency as a public health emergency.

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