After years of embracing what is essentially a harm reduction approach to drug policy, the Scottish Labor Party (SLP) has recently turned toward a hard-line approach, with calls for drug users to embrace abstinence and plans to stop drug users from having children. But that doesn't sit well with Scottish parliament candidate and SLP member Norman Murray, who late last week lambasted his party's new drug policies as "simplistic and wrong."
"I just don't feel my own party's views on the drugs issues are necessarily the right ones," Murray said. "I think they might send out the wrong message to drug users, particularly people who are trying to come off heroin or crack cocaine. It's too simplistic a view to suggest people should go into cold turkey."
Murray took special umbrage at the SLP's embrace of "contracts" with drug users which would bar them from having children. "It is complete and utter nonsense," he said. "I just found that distasteful and it is part of the wrong message we are sending people."
Instead of taking a hard line, the SLP should embrace radical drug policy reform, including decriminalizing marijuana and possibly even harder drugs, said Murray, who is currently head of the East Lothian Council. "Decriminalization of cannabis is something I believe we should be arguing for. My own party isn't arguing that, but it's a view I strongly hold. Such a policy would take cannabis out of the black market," he said. "Criminalization is not working, and the police will tell you that. Cannabis does not lead to class A drugs, but it does allow the dealers to experiment with young people."
Perhaps the same should be done with heroin and cocaine, Murray suggested. "There is a strong argument coming from the police and medical people that says we should maybe be looking at licensing heroin and cocaine, creating a more controlled environment," he said.
Murray is in line to replace retiring Member of the Scottish Parliament Susan Deacon, who has already articulated similar criticisms of the new party line on drug policy. Deacon, a former health minister recently accused the SLP of offering "knee-jerk responses and blanket solutions" to Scotland's drug problems. "The fact is, it's time to get real," she said. "The demonization of drugs and drugs users may make for rabble-rousing speeches and sensationalist headlines, but it does little to promote understanding of what is really going on in our society."
But the reformist views of Murray and Deacon are not party policy, and an SLP spokesman was quick to distance the party from their remarks. "I simply cannot agree with Norman's reported comments," said the spokesman. "I am sure that anyone who has looked at the detail of what Labor is doing in the fight against drugs will see clearly that we have the right policy to tackle the cause and effects of drugs in Scotland."
And so goes the debate within Scotland's ruling political party.