top of page
  • Christopher Smith, Editor-in-Chief

"Scotland Has Effectively Decriminalized the Possession of Class A Drugs"

My headline today is widely reported in several publications, I chose the summary from an advocacy organization in the UK called VolteFace. I learned about them during my interviews with Charlotte Caldwell, whose son Billy has survived epilepsy and autism and has changed the law in the UK to allow medicinal cannabis for other patients:

Scotland Has Effectively Decriminalized the Possession of Class A Drugs


A couple things to start: The “Lord Advocate” is the chief legal officer of Scotland. And drugs there are categorized by Class: A, B, C which correspond generally to our Schedule 1, 2, 3.

“Yesterday The Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain, presented a statement to the Scottish Parliament, announcing that those found in possession of Class A drugs can now be diverted away from prosecution, offering police with discretion to issue a warning instead of referral to prosecution.”

“This change has taken place in an attempt to get to grips with the drug death crisis in Scotland, which has the highest level of drug related deaths in Europe; having already lost the lives of 722 people to preventable drug deaths in the first half of this year.”

As we know, drug deaths in the US in 2020 are in the range of 60,000.


This diversion scheme allows officers to use their discretion, and respond to low level offending with speed, effectiveness and (a word I never thought I'd love so well) proportionality.

This reminds me of two things: a friend of mine was a police officer in Arizona for 18 years. He has told me that when he was in the arrest process for an individual and found some small amount of weed, he would throw it on the ground and grind it in with his boot, but not arrest the person. He’s said to me "There was no sense in ruining someone’s life over a little bit of weed."

(Which goes to the idea of how each of us can do a part in ending injustice in cannabis. Imagine how many lives, over 18 years, this simple practice must have changed!)

It also reminds me that the country of Portugal did something similar to Scotland, also in response another health crisis: AIDS.

Twenty years ago, Portugal had an AIDS crisis that threatened to overwhelm its medical system. The culprit was heroin, and the change in the law was radical new way of thinking: move drug cases from the legal system to the healthcare system, stop arresting heroin users and get them treatment and clean needles instead. The rates of drug deaths in Portugal are about 50 times less than Scotland according to the Drug Policy Foundation: TRANSFORM

This thinking has been used effectively in Norway, and even Portland, OR.


There are two reasons I bring this story today:

Number 1, the drug death crisis in Scotland is not caused by cannabis – as we know cannabis alone has never killed anyone by overdose and after 12,000 years it seems safe to say it’s not possible.

And 2, cannabis is never mentioned in this story because in the UK, cannabis is a Class B drug and police already had discretion to offer a warning for cases of simple possession. Also different from the borderline absurd US Schedule of Controlled Substances, both cocaine and methamphetamine are Class A, that is, more dangerous than cannabis.


bottom of page