Time for a new way to deal with our drugs policy

“Free bags of weed and crack cocaine if you vote SNP”. Thus declared one Unionist troll on twitter in response to the Scottish Government’s drug policy report which argued, amongst other things, for decriminalisation of possession of controlled drugs for personal use.

The online troll went a bit further than the main right-wing tabloids, but the gist of their front pages was the same. The SNP Government stands accused of encouraging drug use, taking the side of ne’er-do-wells over the righteous.

The Tories piled on. So too did Labour’s Sir Keir. The SNP was either playing politics or helping drug dealers – either way it was all their fault.

We need to get beyond this knee jerk nonsense if we are to have a grown-up debate about how to tackle the drugs crisis.

The Scottish Government has indeed recommended that the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use should be decriminalised. Why do we think it reached that conclusion? Could it be that the thoughtful and mild-mannered Drugs Minister, Elena Whitham, is really in the pay of organised crime?

Perhaps it’s because the independent drugs task force called for it. Or maybe because more than 30 countries have now taken this step and are seeing their drug problems reduce rapidly.

I know many people think that because drugs are illegal it stops them. It just doesn’t. Seriously, it works the other way round. It allows the market to be regulated by organised criminal gangs. It makes people who use drugs scared of seeking help, either through fear of retribution or of being charged themselves.

That’s why more than a hundred people in Scotland are dying every month. They die alone. Scared. Helpless. All because we have made them criminals.

It’s time to wake up. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 does not stop anyone who wants drugs getting hold of them. It just makes it very hard to do anything about it.

Decriminalisation instantly does three things. One, it means anyone with a problem can ask for help without being stigmatised or charged. Two, it means health professionals can intervene without fear of arrest, checking what’s in stuff, giving advice and stopping overdoses. And three, it means our police officers can stop arresting people for possession and concentrate on the organised criminal supply chain.

Drugs policy is reserved to Westminster. At the moment, the Scottish Government can do little but argue. That’s not playing politics, it’s just a fact. We need the Scottish Government to have the powers to act and we cannot wait for independence.

Westminster should devolve the power now. In truth, this could be done easily and without fuss. This is exactly what section 30 of the Scotland act is for.

I’m really not sure why they won’t. The Tories say they disagree with the policy of course; they see it as being “soft on drugs”. But if they devolved the power to Edinburgh and it didn’t work, they’d have another stick to beat the SNP with. And the Scottish Government would have nowhere to hide.

Maybe what they fear is that the policy might actually work. And if it did, they’d be under pressure to change throughout the UK. If that’s the case, then I wonder who is actually playing politics here.