Keir Starmer backs relaxation of Class A drugs law in Scotland

Keir Starmer backs relaxation of Class A drugs law in Scotland
Police warnings for Scots caught in possession ‘probably right thing to do’, says Labour leader

Sir Keir Starmer has expressed support for a decision to relax drug laws for those found in possession of Class A substances in Scotland.

Scotland’s Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain announced that those caught with Class A substances – such as heroin, ecstasy or cocaine – could be let off with a warning rather than prosecution.

The scheme will allow police to use their discretion on cases of individual use only, while those caught supplying drugs to others will still face criminal charges.

The Labour leader said Ms Bain’s decision was “probably the right thing to do”, telling ITV: “It’s an independent decision that has been made.”

Although Sir Keir described discretion in certain cases as “sensible,” he denied it amounted to decriminalisation – saying there was a world of difference between the reform and “ripping up” drugs laws entirely.

Home secretary Priti Patel pounced upon his remarks. “Drugs devastate lives,” she tweeted. “They ruin communities and tear families apart. Under Keir Starmer, Labour is weak on crime and weak on the causes of crime.”

Sir Keir’s comments come after Scottish Labour backed Ms Bain’s decision, announced earlier this week. The party’s drugs policy spokesperson Claire Baker MSP said she hoped the move away from criminalisation would lead to more drug users getting support.

In the interview with ITV’s Representing Border, Sir Keir said: “There is a world of difference between a decision not to prosecute a particular case and ripping up the drug laws.”

He added: “I don’t think many people would argue that that discretion isn’t sensible. The very same in Scotland – there is a world of difference between that exercise and saying ‘do you think drug laws should be scrapped?’ To which my answer is no.”

Under current laws in Scotland, officers can already use their discretion to issue warnings to those caught with Class B and C drugs, such as cannabis. Following Ms Bain’s announcement, this has now been extended to Class A substances.

Describing the change as a “smart use of the law”, Scotland’s drug minister Angela Constance hailed the move as “very significant” as the country experiments with new ideas in a bid to reduce its drugs death toll – which reached a record 1,339 in 2020.

The SNP minister told BBC Radio Scotland the change had been welcomed by all parties at Holyrood “with the exception of the Conservatives”.

Scottish Tory justice spokesman Jamie Greene said the change amounted to “effective an effective decriminalisation of drugs”, adding: “People will now be receiving the same punishment for carrying Class A drugs as they would for urinating in public.”

He insisted the Scottish government “must rethink this dangerous approach, which dilutes how seriously we treat possession of the most deadly drugs in our society”.


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