Scotland’s drug mortality price can’t be shelved as just a further misery statistic. It has risen by 27% in a year and is 3 instances England and Wales’s price, 50 instances Portugal’s and larger even than that of the United States. Westminster is clearly deaf to this tragedy. There is only a single resolution. Declare it Scotland’s trouble. Let Scotland determine what to do.
Every single nation in the created planet is now inquiring, experimenting, browsing for how to tame the menace that modern day narcotics pose. Every single nation, that is, except Britain, exactly where for half a century a futile “war on drugs” has been delegated to the police, the courts and the NHS. The sole beneficiaries have been drug dealers and their political sponsor, Her Majesty’s House Workplace, relieved of lifting a finger in response.
There is now tiny point in preaching the gospel of legalisation. Numerous seminars, conferences and inquiries have attempted to function out how finest to tackle Britain’s booming drugs business, reputable and illicit. They under no circumstances address the root of the difficulty, the minds closed to the topic in Westminster and Whitehall. We can scream “look to the Netherlands, Portugal, Canada, California”, and MPs and officials clamp their hands to their ears.
These men and women and not the addicts or dealers are Britain’s drugs trouble. It is their policies, dating from the antiquated 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, that underpin the street corner sales, powder factories, shooting galleries and lightly dusted lavatory seats of what the act has turned into a multibillion-pound underground business. It is an business Whitehall refuses to regulate, let alone tax. Public servants who, in their dwelling life, may possibly be open to purpose, at function grow to be architects of cruelty, effectively-illustrated in the cynical handling of final year’s health-related cannabis scandal, which is nonetheless unresolved. As in so lots of of places of its duty, the House Workplace displays the open-mindedness of a Spanish Inquisition.
Reform should search for weaknesses in the wall of reaction. Chief weakness is the frontline, exactly where criminalisation is collapsing by means of sheer unenforcibility. Led by Durham, a single force immediately after a further is refusing to arrest its way out of the drugs trouble. London’s commissioner, Cressida Dick, says she would need to have “an army of 100,000 officers” to seek out and charge all the capital’s drug customers. Anarchy may possibly however prove the most helpful agent of alter. But even an attempted shift from imprisonment to care and rehabilitation suffers from the steady closure of remedy centres below regional authorities’ austerity. Like ever increasing drug abuse in prisons, it is as if British government was searching for to help an business with which it claims to be at war.
Liberal Britain relieves its anti-Brexit fury by labelling Donald Trump’s US antediluvian. However even Trump is not enforcing federal bans on states that experiment with cannabis law reform. Thirty-3 states have legalised medicinal or recreational use, as has Canada. An business worth lots of billions of dollars is going reputable, as did alcohol with the finish of prohibition.
Guests arriving at Los Angeles airport are greeted with an advertisement for California’s chief marijuana retailer, MedMen. It reads: “Welcome to the new regular.” Half of Oakland’s cannabis licences now go to formerly imprisoned dealers. Colorado, a state the similar size as Scotland, reports income from its cannabis tax passing $1bn in 5 years of operation. Could Scotland not use such funds? The American expertise is not all roses. It has a substantial “hard” drug abuse trouble, partly due to the introduction of new opioids and other substances.
But gradually drugs are coming to be noticed as a social, not a law-and-order situation, with handle and legal regulation the sensible response. At least marijuana is getting removed from the drugs cocktail. Study shows no rise in cannabis usage with legalisation, whilst California shows an eight% fall amongst teenage customers.
Britain is light years adrift of such reform. The a single hope may well be Scotland. It currently enjoys a degree of devolved energy more than crime and punishment. This spring it publicised its exceptional accomplishment in combating knife killings. It had halved the price in 10 years, largely thanks to violence reduction schemes copied from Los Angeles and Boston. Likewise, a campaign against alcohol-associated deaths exploited delegated powers to levy regional taxes. A rise in minimum retail costs has driven Scottish alcohol consumption to an all-time low. Each these initiatives have been classic examples of regional discretion major to reform, exactly where central government policy was stuck in a political rut. However, ever because devolution, the House Workplace has refused to enable Scotland energy to differ the 1971 drugs act. With its antique schedules and ineffective punishments, this act echoes the days of stocks, thumbscrews and treadmills. To the House Workplace it is holy writ.
Scotland has a desperate trouble. Scenes of addicts on its streets will hardly attract investors, employers or vacationers. However it has a mature administration with a confirmed readiness to search the planet for options to its woes. Its police chiefs, law officers, academics and newspapers are pleading to be permitted to tackle the drugs crisis for themselves. Cannabis legalisation may possibly be component of a resolution. Prescription heroin and cocaine may possibly be a further. That should really be for Scotland to determine.
Parliament can hold to its medieval taboos. It can sail blithely on by means of its dark evening of reaction. But it has failed utterly to win the war on drugs in Scotland. The least it can do is set Scotland cost-free.
• Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist