‘The UKs drug policy should be a health issue not a criminal justice one’

Maybe in an ideal world everybody would be so happy and content, so free of stress and anxiety, so confident and assured that there would be no requirement for alcohol or indeed any recreational drugs.

But we are not there and we never have been.

Throughout history for a variety of reasons people have taken drugs.

A hundred years ago, you could buy cocaine, heroin or morphine in pharmacies and department stores.

During the First World War, Harrods sold kits with syringes and tubes of cocaine and heroin “For the boys on the front line”. That was under what was termed the ‘British System’. It was a light touch approach to drug consumption. One of tolerance and treatment.

But in 1971 through the misuse of drugs act criminalisation became the name of the game.

The result has been years of violence, tensions, organised crime and a monumental increase in addiction. 

On the up side, recently we have seen a change in the U.K. Government’s approach to cannabis.

From a stance that said ‘cannabis had no therapeutic value ‘The UK Government have become better informed and with that new knowledge we are progressing towards medical cannabis under prescription in the U.K.

There are many hurdles still to overcome regarding the medical expertise and availability of the correct products. But we are now moving in the right direction.

When it comes to recreational drugs we are still running up against a brick wall.

Last week Canada joined nine states of the USA and Washington D.C. to legalise recreational cannabis. They have taken a different approach in various states regarding age limits. Some Canadian provinces will allow people to grow their own, limiting them to 4 plants, other provinces do not allow home growing. We should be looking to those parts of the world to gather evidence and decide if their approach is beneficial and if we should follow suit.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comment was particularly pertinent. When he said: “We are not legalising cannabis because we think it’s good for our health. We are doing it because we know it’s not good for our children. We know we need to do a better job to protect our children and to eliminate or massively reduce the profits that go to organised crime.”

For me, that is the mind set we need to adopt.

Canada has the same problems we have but like Portugal and Uruguay and others they have taken a different approach to providing a solution. And it’s not ‘drugs for everybody’ it’s regulate the marketplace to take away the control from the criminals.

In July 2017 the UK Government published its Drugs Strategy.

And they announced they were going to appoint a recovery champion.

A Recovery Champion whose role was defined as someone who “will be responsible for driving and supporting collaboration between local authorities, public employment services, housing providers and criminal justice partners.”

There is still nobody in the role so nobody is coordinating those aspects of the support and recovery programme?

I find myself wondering if there is a U.K. government harm reduction recovery programme.

Before we can take a constructive approach to our drugs policy.

We must acknowledge that of the 10% of users that become problematic users the majority have suffered physical, psychological or sexual abuse.

We must acknowledge that problematic use is higher in areas of social deprivation.

We must accept the responsibility of trying to find solutions and acknowledge our failures.

We need to help people with problematic drug-use, with harm-reduction treatment and wrap-around support.

We should. Have a network of safe drug consumption rooms throughout the U.K.

The emergency services should carry naloxone and be trained in its use.

And most importantly the UKs drug policy should be a health issue not a criminal justice one.


We can continue to criminalise users, driving them into the hands of unscrupulous dealers while ignoring the atmosphere of fear that they live in. And all we will do is marginalise them, stigmatise them and ostracise them.

We have lost the war on drugs.

Our own drugs policy saw to that.

We need to change our mind set and we need to ensure we are in a position to win the peace.

Ronnie Cowan MP


Westminster diary w/b 15th October


First event at Westminster was a briefing on the failing rollout of Universal Credit. A number of MPs whose constituencies have experienced Universal Credit for some time now, got together to share their experiences. This was in preparation for questions to the Secretary of State for the DWP. I bobbed for well over an hour in an attempt to ask a question but along with all my SNP colleagues I was ignored. All I managed to do was aggravate my already aching knees. Not a good start to the week. The statement on exiting the EU negotiations didn’t tell us anything we didn’t know and the behaviour in the chamber when the SNP spokesperson responded was appalling. It really was the self-entitled arrogant Tories and the SNPBAD labour at their very worst. I attended a strategy meeting on the course of action required to address the growing concerns relating to the use of synthetic cannabis in particular Spice and Mamba. Apart from Jeff Smith (Labour MP) and myself everyone just wants harder prison sentences. The evidence says that doesn’t work. I attended a debate on loneliness and its links to poverty.


I met with a Canadian company that produce medical cannabis. With the impending change of the law in the U.K. a number of companies that produce a range of products are lobbying hard to be allowed to supply the U.K. market. I was encouraged that their products covered a range of conditions and as they are already available in Germany they are BMP standard. I attended the back bench business committee to lend my support for a debate on the Equitable Life pension’s debacle.


Following on from a story in the press during the weekend I met with representatives of Gatwick airport who walked me through their plans to utilise an existing runway for additional takeoffs. Presently it is used to feed the main runway. This has been dubbed Gatwick’s “stealth runway”. They are prepared to invest a lot of money and it’s a long term project. The key to its success is likely to be an upgrade to the railway structure and surrounding roads. Scottish Questions was disappointing despite eight questions being allocated to the SNP. Usually that would have ensured fireworks but the Secretary of State for Scotland has obviously taken the stance that he is only accountable to his Westminster overlords and despite his title he didn’t actually answer any questions about Scotland, preferring to rubbish the Scottish Parliament and the SNP instead. Prime ministers questions was a poor affair too. The debate on Universal Credit that followed was a feisty affair. The DWP came under intense criticism. Most speakers were quick to praise the hard work of their local jobcentres and foodbanks but the fact that food banks exist is a damning indictment of the system. I had to leave early as I was the SNP representative on a Delegated Legislative Committee for civil aviation insurance post Brexit and yes, it was as interesting as it sounds. I caught the tail end of the debate in the chamber on social care funding and was pleased to hear that the Scottish Government funding is £157 per head greater than the rest of the United Kingdom. I intervened on the adjournment debate on ‘county lines’. Yet another example where the U.K. drugs policy is failing. The ‘hang them high’ brigade just don’t understand that we have tried that and it doesn’t work.


Because I stayed late last night for the adjournment debate I stayed over and had to get up at 5am to catch the red eye up to Glasgow. I attended a wonderful event at Your Voice where I met the folk behind the augmented reality comic that the local Syrian kids put together with a little help from Magic Torch and Police Scotland. The kids were brilliant and were happy to tell me how much they enjoyed last year’s pantomime at the Beacon. The rest of the day was spent dealing with constituents cases.


I had an interview with the Greenock Telegraph and a few constituents to meet. I also took some time to research and write my speech for the drugs policy debate I am leading next Tuesday in Westminster Hall. I hope it’s an event that stimulates new options. I know I have a number of suggestions for the Home Office minister to take on board. On Saturday I shall be attending the unveiling of the poppy commemoration in the Inverclyde Heritage Hub.

Drugs policy debate

First and foremost the issue of drugs policy should be treated as a health issue rather than the current policy of the UK Government in making it a criminal justice one. 

Every time we lock up a criminal gang and announce to the media that we have seized a large quantity of drugs with a street value of so many millions, what they don’t say is supply was disrupted for an hour or so before another gang claimed the newly available market place.  Often these takeovers involve a spate of violence and they are always maintained by violence and the threat of violence. 

We can continue to criminalise users, driving them into the hands of unscrupulous dealers while ignoring the atmosphere of fear that they live in. And all we will do is marginalise them, stigmatise them and ostracise them.  We have lost the war on drugs.

We need to change our mind set and we need to ensure we are in a position to win the peace.

Drugs policy

On Tuesday, I am leading a debate in Westminster Hall on UK drugs policy and wants to hear your views.

What is the one thing you would change in the current UK drugs policy and why?

Comment on the photo on the House of Commons Facebook page to share your thoughts.



Written question – Work & Pension [17/10/2018]

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, when the last time was that (a) Ministers and (b) Officials from her Department visited Greenock Jobcentre to discuss the roll-out of Universal Credit. (177348)

Tabled on: 09 October 2018

Alok Sharma:

There have been no Ministerial visits to Greenock Jobcentre. However a number of senior officials from the Department have visited the office since it went live with Universal Credit on 23 November 2016. The last time an official from the Department visited Greenock Jobcentre was on 14 June 2018.

The answer was submitted on 17 Oct 2018 at 17:51.


Universal Credit Needs Dramatic Change Not Sticking-Plaster Solution

The UK Government needs to immediately halt and radically reform Universal Credit – and the Tory policy needs a dramatic change, not just a sticking-plaster solution.

Only a full halt and fundamental change can address the deep-rooted problems with the system and help those already suffering under it.

I am also calling on the other political parties to get behind the SNP’s seven-point plan to radically reform Universal Credit at the upcoming Budget, including by:

  • Immediately halting the roll-out
  • Ending and reversing the benefits freeze
  • Reinstating the work allowance
  • Scrapping the two-child cap and rape clause
  • Reintroducing the ESA WRAC and enhanced disability support
  • Abolishing unfair sanctions, and fixing payment delays and errors
  • Instigating a fundamental review of the entire system

Inverclyde was one of the first areas in the UK to be transferred to Universal Credit in November 2016, shortly before the closure of the Port Glasgow Jobcentre. The deeply flawed implementation of this benefit has forced many people in Inverclyde towards financial hardship and dependence on food banks.

The Trussell Trust reported a 90% increase in the number of children accessing food banks in Inverclyde since 2016/2017, citing Universal Credit as a major factor in the increase. I recently met with the Chief Executive of the Trussell Trust to discuss the impact of Universal Credit and the financial pressure that it is putting on local families.

Clearly Universal Credit needs a dramatic change and not just a sticking plaster solution. Only a full halt and radical reform can address the deep rooted flaws with the system, and help those families who are already suffering in poverty because of a botched UK Government policy.

The UK Government must use the Budget to make immediate changes – including ending and reversing the benefits freeze, reinstating the work allowance, scrapping the two-child cap, reintroducing the ESA WRAC and enhanced disability support, abolishing unfair sanctions, and fixing the payment delays and errors.

The Tories must also instigate a fundamental review of the entire flawed system, and deliver support for families who have been plunged into debt and rent arrears in areas where Universal Credit has already been rolled-out, such as Inverclyde.

Dozens of constituents have contacted me to discuss how Universal Credit has affected them. I will be attending tomorrow’s parliamentary debate on Universal Credit on their behalf.