SNP Drugs Policy Minister Angela Constance has criticised the “hysterical reaction” by the Conservatives over the lord advocate’s decision to allow police to divert prosecution for “simple possession offences”.
Ms Constance was speaking during a Tory debate on the opposition party’s intention to bring forward a right to recovery bill – with detailed plans yet to be published.
The Conservative plans would enshrine people’s right to drug rehabilitation treatment in law.
Conservative health spokesperson Sandesh Gulhane said Scotland’s drugs death crisis, which saw a record 1,339 lives lost in 2020, is “Scotland’s humanitarian crisis”.
He added: “We want to guarantee that everyone in our country who needs drugs treatment can receive it.
“This is a cornerstone of a strategy to tackle our national scandal.”
But A row erupted following the lord advocate’s independent announcement last week for police to be able to hand out warnings instead of prosecution for possession offences of all classes of drugs.
Dr Gulhane claimed that this decision means “drug use could actually increase among recreational drug users”.
But Ms Constance said she has “consistently acknowledged that we are facing a public health emergency”.
The SNP minister pointed to the “hysterical reaction” by the Tories to the lord advocate’s decision on diversion of prosecution – backed by all other parties, expect the Conservatives.
Ms Constance said: “This government does, however, welcome the change as it is clear that people with a drug dependency must be supported and helped with their addiction.”
“There is widespread support across this chamber for her decision and widespread support for police diversion.”
Turning to the Conservative plans, Ms Constance added: “I have always said that once you publish the bill and I like others have had the opportunity to ensure that that bill will do what it says on the tin, I will give a view about it.
“I do have an open mind about whether, at some point, we need to legislate.”
Labour’s Pauline McNeill said the decision to allow diversion of prosecution for possession was “a step in the right direction” and criticised the Conservatives’ stance on the change to recorded police warnings.
She added: “It is still illegal to possess drugs, the law is not changing – it is not decriminalising drugs and as well they know it.
“It is aimed at reducing drug deaths to get people on the right pathway.
“For the Tory benches to characterise the lord advocate’s announcement last week as a wholescale decriminalisation of drugs does their proposal no justice whatsoever.
“Has it occurred to them that a route into recovery may well be the police officer who issues the warning under the scheme and refers that person to treatment?”
Conservative justice spokesperson, Jamie Greene, highlighted a “shameful” link between a reduction in rehab beds and drugs deaths.
He added: “It is our unapologetic view that the right to recovery must be enshrined in law.
“If the government’s direction of travel is to make our drug shame a health problem not a justice one, fine. But ministers better make sure there’s a health solution there to back it up because their track record to date fills no-one with confidence.”