3 March 2023
Today sees the publication of a new report, Working To Decriminalise People Who Use Drugs which describes how progress has been made across five different jurisdictions – Scotland, Ireland, Norway, Poland and the US State of Maine
Funded by the Open Society Foundation, Ireland’s Ana Liffey Drug Project commissioned Scottish Drugs Forum to undertake the evaluation and draw up the report.
The report explores the situation in each of the five jurisdictions and the lessons from the success of different projects and initiatives which have helped implement change and progress decriminalisation. The report shares the perspectives and roles of advocates, politicians, police and the media.
The report is based on interviews with stakeholders in each jurisdiction and international experts from across substance use, health, justice, research and policy fields. The process also involved a review of research and an analysis of media coverage and public attitudes toward drug use and decriminalisation.
Key findings include:
- The benefits to progressing practical approaches to decriminalisation of a public health approach to addressing and discussing drug use
- The need to clearly define terminology and the model of decriminalisation being advocated
- The need to clearly describe the change proposed in terms of police and criminal justice practice and what the state would do in practice
- The need to describe practical benefits for all stakeholders including wider communities and society
- The benefit of a collaborative approach in advocacy involving politicians, people who use drugs, advocates, police, health representatives
- The crucial role of media in public perceptions of the debate around decriminalisation and on public views about people who use drugs and the stigma born by people who use drugs
Dave Liddell, CEO of Scottish Drugs Forum, set the report in context. “In recent years, the necessary consensus around decriminalisation has begun to form. We fully support full decriminalisation for the possession of all drugs in Scotland. The introduction of recording warnings for the possession of all classes of drugs, including heroin and cocaine, has been an important first step but we need to go further.”
Katy MacLeod from Scottish Drug Forum, the principal researcher on the project explained “This report shows that people understand decriminalisation to include a variety of measures. These range from alternatives to punishments like fines and imprisonment; diversion to health interventions or treatment; to drug possession no longer being a criminal offence at all.
“To make progress on decriminalisation, policy makers, the media and the general public need to be fully informed and have a shared understanding of what the specifics of any policy change are and the impact for individuals and society as a whole.
“It is clear from the findings that there is an appetite across people working in health, police, policy-makers and indeed wider society, to end the criminalisation of people and thereby reduce further and harm to individuals.”