Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie MSP today called for a sea-change in drugs policy after new analysis showed that 1,000 people in possession of drugs for personal use have been imprisoned in the last five years instead of being sent for treatment or education.
The figures, compiled by Scottish Government analysts at the request of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, revealed an average of 200 people in Scotland were incarcerated for drug offences between 2010 and 2015. In contrast, an average of just 55 Scots per year were handed drug treatment and testing orders.
The Scottish Liberal Democrats’ manifesto for the upcoming Scottish Parliament election proposes to end the use of imprisonment for vulnerable people addicted to drugs, calling for it to be treated as a health issue instead. Drug dealers would still face tough criminal sanctions and people failing to abide by treatment or education plans would be subject to additional penalties.
Mr Rennie was speaking as he joined Liberal Democrat campaigners in Glasgow, where 189 people died as a result of drug misuse in 2014.
Commenting, Mr Rennie said:
“Drugs blight communities right across Scotland but the way that we tackle addiction is broken.
“Here in Glasgow, 189 people died as a result of drug misuse in 2014. 189 families who lost a son or daughter, a mother or a father because of drugs. Drugs destroy lives and we need to help people struggling with addiction get healthy through treatment and education. Locking 1,000 drug users up will not help them get clean.
"At the moment, almost four times as many people charged with possession for personal use are sent to prison than are given treatment orders. This needs to change.
“It costs £37,000 a year to keep someone in prison. Unless we focus on getting people off drugs we will see the same faces going through our justice system time and again. Any way you look at it, we cannot afford to simply write people off.
“We need a sea-change in our approach to drug misuse. While other parties try to look tough on crime, Scottish Liberal Democrats are proposing a drug policy based on the best scientific evidence of what works. It is time that we started treating drug addiction as the health issue that it has always been.”