Glasgow has formally come out in support of the decriminalisation of personal drugs use as the council continues to back the need for safe consumption rooms.
The city is understood to be the first major UK local authority to announce it is in favour of a change in the law and could have a major role in addressing the drugs death crisis.
A motion calling for the City Council to adopt a position supporting decriminalisation was brought forward to Thursday’s full council by the SNP City Convener for Homelessness and Addiction Services councillor Allan Casey.
It secured the support from the majority of councillors including those across the SNP, Green and Conservative benches but the Labour group proposed an amendment which argued that full decriminalisation was not the right approach and that the Scottish Government needed to invest more in addiction services instead.
Councillor Casey said that supporting the decriminalisation of personal drug use was the “humane” thing to do and has now written to both the UK and Scottish Governments outlining Glasgow’s position.
He believes major cities like Glasgow which suffer “disproportionately” from drug related deaths can make a difference in changing the UK’s approach to problematic drug use.
Councillor Casey said: “I’m pleased that Glasgow has adopted a position on an approach to addiction and drug misuse which is humane and evidence-based.
“Decimalisation isn’t a silver bullet for problematic use or, for that matter, a greenlight to criminality. It’s about alternatives to conviction and punishment in a crisis costing hundreds of lives in Glasgow every year. It’s about a way out of addiction.
“We know that decriminalisation and indeed safe consumption facilities need to be backed by treatment and services. But we can’t afford to ignore the evidence from other cities which have seen dramatic declines in drug deaths that decriminalisation has a major part to play in harm reduction.
“I know that taking a position on this is important and can make a difference. Glasgow having a collective voice on safe consumption, for example, has allowed us to put forward a strong case, something I’ve no doubt the Home Affairs Select Committee took on board when it came out in favour of a pilot in our city. I believe our voice on decriminalisation can have a similar effect.”
Despite decriminalisation being supported by the Global Commission on drug policy, and the Chief Executives of all 31 United Nations agencies, the Labour group opposed the motion on the grounds that the Scottish Government should be investing more in services to prevent the high levels of drug deaths the country sees every year.
Councillor Elaine McDougall said: “Over 12,000 people have lost their lives in Scotland since the SNP came into power in 2007 and 12,000 lives lost is a national disgrace.
“We don’t believe full decriminalisation is the right approach to tackling the crisis. The Scottish Government needs to invest more into addiction services to support people through their addiction.
“A new approach is needed. Our government needs to step up and deliver the funding required to stop the tragic level of drug deaths in Scotland every year.”
Councillor Audrey Dempsey added: “The holistic approach we desire should not only give people who are not yet ready to face or see the benefits of the recovery programme, a safe environment where help is on hand should they need it but it must include access to various different kinds of support – in particular mental health.
“We need to treat addiction in the same way we treat all long term illnesses and restore the help that we have deprived the sufferers of for years now.
“Safe consumption rooms are a starting point and for the addition of many other supports alongside it, it could be the start of us getting a handle on addiction in our city.”
Following the debate, councillor Casey accused Labour of “attempting to double down on criminalising people suffering from addiction”.
He added: “I genuinely feel for those Labour councillors who I know want to do the best for their communities and others within Labour who know that we need bold and radical action to address our crisis.
“The reality however is that Labour in Scotland are under clear instruction from Sir Keir and their London bosses to say or do nothing which will frighten the reactionary votes it needs to get to Downing Street, regardless of lives in Scotland.”