The Scottish government declared last week that it wants to decriminalise drugs for personal use. And you can understand why, says Simon Jenkins in The Guardian: the current approach has been a complete failure. Scotland has the highest drug mortality rate in Europe, and drug problems pollute everything from mental health and welfare to policing and prisons. The nightmare for Edinburgh is that while the devolved government is responsible for the services that deal with these issues, the rules on drugs themselves are made by Westminster. And there, politicians absolutely refuse to budge – a “horrified” Rishi Sunak last week reinforced his government’s “tough stance” on drugs. “An equally horrified Labour promptly agreed.”
What is Britain’s political class so afraid of? The norm in progressive Western democracies is not just decriminalising drugs, but legalising and regulating them. In keeping cannabis illegal, the UK trails behind the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Mexico, Uruguay, Canada and South Africa, “not to mention 21 American states and cities, including California, New York City and Washington DC”. More Americans today use weed than tobacco, “to the benefit of their health”. Many of these countries still experience problems – Amsterdam is overrun with drug tourists – but overall, the trend is that decriminalisation means less crime and less addiction. It’s really just a matter of political courage. In the 1960s, British politicians “lived in mortal fear of pro-hanging constituents”, who would periodically summon them to meetings to declare “hanging was too good” for criminals. Few dared demur until the then home secretary Roy Jenkins “faced down his officials and got parliament to ban the rope”. Let’s hope someone has the guts to do the same with legalising drugs.