Drug Laws Could Change Under an Independent Scotland

By Victoria Kim 09/16/14

Thursday's referendum could mean a clean break from England's conservative drug policies for left-leaning Scots.

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On Thursday, September 18, a referendum will determine whether Scotland will become independent of the UK for the first time in 307 years. The campaign for independence, led by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, has played to Scots who feel out of step with the center-right government in London led by the Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron.

If Scottish independence reigns, discretion over matters such as the legal status of drugs would be transferred from the UK government to the Scottish Parliament.

Professor David Nutt, former chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which makes drug-policy recommendations to the UK government, said an independent Scotland could take a more progressive approach to drug policy.

“The UK government is the only one in the world to have taken backwards steps on drugs control in the last decade—the opposite of, say, the USA,” he told Vice News. “A free Scotland could be more sensible and reverse this regressive trend.”

Nutt was dismissed from his position as the government’s chief drug adviser in 2009 by the Labour government for saying cannabis is less dangerous than alcohol. This caused two fellow scientists on the ACMD to resign in sympathy and further cemented Nutt’s role as the face of drug-policy reform in the UK.

While drug-policy reform is not a pressing issue for Scotland, there are a few signs that an independent Scotland could divert from the UK’s conservative policies—after all, Scots are traditionally more left-leaning than their English neighbors.

The leader of the “yes” to independence campaign, Salmond, recently expressed that he is “rather sympathetic” to the use of medical marijuana. He assured radio listeners during a BBC phone-in that an independent Scottish government would do a “good job” when it comes to deciding what is and isn’t a crime.

Since an independent Scotland would be able to have its own drug laws, the Scottish government explained, though vaguely, its intentions on this matter in a document detailing the advantages of independence:

“Whilst drugs policy is currently devolved, drugs classification remains reserved to Westminster,” it read. “Independence will allow decisions on drugs policy and drug classification to be taken together in a coherent way.” 

It will be up to the residents of Scotland to decide whether to remain a part of the UK or become independent. Residents as young as 16 are able to vote, even though the national voting age is 18.

In a country that was once branded the narco capital of Europe and known for being among the worst in the world for drug-related crime and deaths, a progressive approach to drug-policy could be a remedy for those social problems.

“Any country that developed a rational approach to drugs would benefit from reducing crime, improving health, and accelerating new research into medicines,” Nutt told Vice.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr