Lib Dems call for creation of ‘regulated cannabis market’

The Lib Dems have called the Scottish Government to back a 'regulated cannabis market' in a bid to take control away from crime gangs.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have called for sweeping changes in drugs policy – including partial decriminalisation and the creation of a “regulated cannabis market”.

The party has announced it has sent a 10-point plan to ministers, which leaders believe will tackle the current drugs problem in Scotland, which killed 1,187 people in 2018.

Drug policy is currently reserved to Westminster, giving the UK Government power over any reforms.

The Home Office has been resisting calls from Holyrood and Glasgow City Council to grant plans to open the first heroin assisted treatment facility in the city, allowing addicts to use drugs in a regulated and monitored environment.

Health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton, who unveiled the plan, has called on the Scottish Government to back the proposals, which include diversionary treatment for people caught in possession of drugs for their own use instead of being sent to prison.

The plan also suggests the Scottish Government “back a regulated cannabis market” in a bid to rid organised crime of their control over the drug.

A spokesman for the Home Office said the UK Government would not be decriminalising drugs.

The increase in the minimum unit pricing, expansion of heroin assisted treatment plans to the rest of the country, action to tackle neonatal abstinence syndrome, the deployment of drug testing and the protection of drug and alcohol partnership funding were also part of the Lib Dem masterplan.

Liberal Democrats have also called for the protection of venues when drug offences are committed on their premises, allowing local authorities to make “licensing decisions that keep their customers safe”.

A number of issues including the drug related death of a young girl caused the closure of the Arches club in Glasgow in 2015.

Cole-Hamilton said: “Both of Scotland’s governments are stuck in the last century. We’ve had a war on drugs for decades, and drugs won. Now it is about learning lessons and facing up to reality.

“Successful schemes already exist elsewhere in the UK to divert people from the criminal justice system and into the health system, but the Scottish Government is lagging way behind. Prison does not help people to get clean, in fact all the evidence suggests it makes things worse.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have outlined common-sense, evidence-based proposals for how Scotland can break the cycle and the Scottish Government have conceded that a public health approach must be taken. Now they need to actually deliver.

“The Scottish Government should back this new approach to people caught with drugs for personal use and ensure that treatment and education services are in place to support those referred there instead of prison.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish and UK Governments have announced plans to hold the summits at the Scottish Events Campus later this month, just one day apart.

Scottish ministers have said their conference, held before the event run by the Home Office, will inform their contributions the following day.

Cole-Hamilton added: “The sight of the Scottish and UK Governments holding rival conferences on the same issue in the same city only a day apart is a damning indictment of their collective failure to tackle soaring numbers of drugs deaths.”

A spokesman for the Home Office said: “The Government will not decriminalise drugs.

“Illegal drugs devastate lives and communities, and dealers should face the full consequences of the law.

“It is only by working together can we tackle the tragedy of drug deaths and this week our UK-wide drug summit in Glasgow will address in detail the challenges of drug misuse and their terrible impact across Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “The Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick has repeatedly stated that what Scotland is facing in terms of drug deaths is nothing short of a public health emergency.

“The Scottish Government has long established that we are taking a public health-led approach to address problem alcohol and drug use.

“The Scottish Government’s draft budget for 2020/21 not only protects funding for alcohol and drugs services, but in fact proposes to increase the Scottish Government’s direct funding for them by almost 60%.

“We support diversionary programmes and a range of measures to reduce the harms caused by alcohol and drug use to both individuals and the wider community.

“As we hope is widely understood, powers over drugs are reserved to the UK Government.

“We have long called for the UK Government to reform the Misuse of Drugs Act and, if they will not, to instead devolve power to allow the Scottish Parliament to act.”

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