Shetland MSP Tavish Scott has backed Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie who this week argued that possession of small quantities of any drug should be decriminalised.
Mr Scott said: “We’re looking to change the focus of drugs policy. Our intention is to help concerned organisations to prevent the ill health associated with drugs use.”
This echoed sentiments expressed by Mr Rennie in an opinion piece for the Sunday Herald in which he wrote: “Drugs misuse costs society £3.5 billion a year. That’s around £900 for every adult in Scotland.
“We’re not winning the so-called war on drugs and we have to consider the alternatives.”
Instead of jail time the Liberal Democrats intend to change prosecution and sentencing guidelines and refer those arrested for possession of drugs for personal use for treatment, education or civil penalties.
They will look to take guidance from the approach adopted in Portugal where those arrested for personal possession drug offences are referred to an assessment panel.
The Liberal Democrats suggest that there would be a number of benefits to this policy. For one they believe it would free up the resources of the criminal justice system and ease the burden on congested prisons. A second argument in favour of the policy is that it would aim to treat, rather than punish, addiction.
Furthermore, it is the view of the party that drug users punished by the justice system are having their future chances of gainful employment taken from them when they receive a criminal record.
Dealing drugs would still be treated as a criminal offence. In fact the Liberal Democrats believe they would have more resources freed up to tackle the people and organised crime groups producing and dealing drugs.
Mr Scott added: “I think it is important to point out that at yesterday’s [Wednesday’s] budget the SNP cut funding for drug rehabilitation programmes. I believe that is the wrong approach.”
He also felt that although “the deterrent element of the current policy is important the critical bit to consider is that the current policy isn’t working.”
Mr Rennie vowed that instead of treating drug use as a criminal matter the Liberal Democrats would instead “address the mental health, housing and employment problem so often found with drug abuse”.
Currently a person found to be in possession of class A drugs for personal use could face up to seven years in prison, while class B drugs can land a user in prison for up to five years.