Tommy Sheppard | MP for Edinburgh East

Campaign for reform of Drug Laws

Back in 2018, I revisited a topic that has been close to my heart for a number of years - drug reform. No-one could pretend the so-called "war on drugs" was working. Drug related deaths have been rising year on year in Scotland and the UK government, who have the powers to act on reforming the law, have refused to make any changes. As part of my role on the Scottish Affairs Committee I proposed an inquiry into problematic drug use in Scotland. The committee agreed to it and the inquiry launched in March 2019 and reported in November 2019 (read the report here).

Core Campaign Aims:

Tackling problem drug use from a health rather than justice perspective

Decriminalisation of drug possession and use

Comprehensive review of the Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA)

Devolving the powers to tackle drug use to the Scottish Parliament.

Challenging and reducing stigma

Undermining organised crime

Find out more about the campaign and the latest updates below:

June 2021 - Debate on the Misuse of Drugs Act

Parliament held a backbench debate on the Misuse of Drugs Act. You can watch my contribution here.

May 2021 - Anniversary of the Misuse of Drugs Act

UK drug laws are 50 years old this month. But in 50 years they have failed to reduced drug use or harm, instead they have led to a huge increase in crime and exploitation. People are dying while the UK government continue to criminalise and stigmatise some of the most vulnerable in society. It must stop, and it must stop now.

March 2021 - Publication of Private Members' Bill on Problem Drug Use

Today I published my Private Members’ Bill to enact the recommendations of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee inquiry into problem drug use. Today’s publication outlines the legislative details of a series of reforms including decriminalising possession of small amounts of restricted drugs for personal use and ensuring that overdose prevention facilities - also known as drug consumption rooms - can operate legally. Read more here.

February 2021 - Publication of opinion piece in the Yellow Papers Project

I wrote an extended opinion piece on my views about how we tackle the drugs crisis for the Yellow Papers Project. You can read it here.

January 2021 - First Minister makes statement in the Scottish parliament

I very much welcome the statement on drugs policy from the First Minister. Clear that harm reduction and treatment are important - we need to keep people alive so they can access they help they need. Watch the statement here.

December 2020 - Drug related death statistics are published

1,264 people died from drug related deaths in Scotland in 2019. This is a crisis. We can and must do better. Read the report here.

October 2020 - Article in The House Magazine

Following my Ten Minute Rule Bill I wrote an article for House Magazine - read it here.

September 2020 - Ten Minute Rule Bill on Problem Drug Use

I brought forward a Ten Minute Rule Bill which aims to help tackle the drug crisis by decriminalising the possession of small quantities of drugs for personal use and declaring a public health emergency. I was pleased to have support for it from MPs across the political spectrum. While such Private Member's Bill are incredibly unlikely to become law unless the government supports them, it brings attention to the debate and cause. You can watch my speech presenting the bill here.

September 2020 - UK Government respond to Scottish Affairs Committee Report

The UK government responded to the Scottish Affairs Committee Report (see it here). They rejected almost every recommendation. They rejected changing the focus from justice to health. They rejected calling a public health emergency. They rejected allowing a safe consumption facility. They rejected decriminalisation. They rejected devolving any powers. Our recommendations weren’t just plucked out of the air. They were based on evidence after a lengthy and wide reaching inquiry. To simply reject them out of hand is outrageous and insulting. So what action is the UK government going to take? Doing nothing is not an option. The UK’s drug laws are not fit for purpose and people are dying.
I wrote to Kit Malthouse urging him to think again.

June 2020 - The impact of Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on us all and those who use drugs are no exception. Scottish Drugs Forum (SDF) has providing information, guidance, resources and webinars with the aim of supporting services who support people who use drugs. You can find more information here. Services such as Crew 2000 have changed how they deliver their services to include digital drop in services and telephone/online services. They are also undertaking a regular survey on how drug use is being affected by the pandemic. Find out more here.

I wrote to the UK and Scottish governments in support of a letter  from 13 Professors of Epidemiology, Public Health, Drug Policy and Criminology as well as drug treatment service providers, doctors and drug policy groups. I shared their view that we cannot get Covid-19 under control without increasing support for people dependent on drugs.

February 2020 - UK and Scottish Government host conferences in Glasgow

As the UK government's drugs summit took place in Glasgow, I asked the Leader of the House when we can expect a debate on the drugs crisis to allow us to consider changing the law to allow interventions that will save lives. Watch it here. Needless to say we have yet to have that debate.

January 2020 - Prime Minister's Questions

I used my question at the first PMQs of the year to seek a commitment from Boris Johnson to consider a pilot scheme of supervised overdose prevention facilities to help tackle the drugs crisis. He appeared to be at least open to the discussion but we need a firm commitment. The evidence is clear - he must act. Watch it here.

November 2019 - Scottish Affairs Committee Publishes Inquiry Report

The Scottish Affairs Committee completed its inquiry and published its report on 4th November 2019. You can read the full report here.

We made several key recommendations including:

Calling on the UK Government to declare a public health emergency, and to work with the Scottish Government to take urgent and radical steps to halt Scotland’s spiralling drug crisis. Both Governments must be open to implementing innovative evidence-based solutions with the scale and urgency required by Scotland’s drug crisis.

The UK Government must review the impact welfare sanctions have on people who use drugs, and outline steps it will take to make the welfare system less adversarial for people who use drugs who are trying to enter recovery.

Recommending that the UK Government brings forward the legislation necessary to allow for the lawful establishment of a pilot safe consumption facility in Scotland. If the UK Government is unwilling to do so, it must instead devolve competence for drugs legislation to the Scottish Parliament, so that it can implement the health approach it deems to be in Scotland’s best interest. 

Recommending that the UK Government decriminalises the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use across the whole of the UK and should consult on how this could be rolled out in practice. As a transitionary approach, the Home Office should encourage all police forces across the UK to introduce diversion schemes.

The UK Government must lead by example by ensuring it promotes appropriate and non-stigmatising language when discussing drugs. The Government should also be proactively challenging stigmatising language and misrepresentation, in order to improve the quality of public and political understanding of drug-related issues. 

October 2019 - SNP Conference passes resolution on drug law reform

Delegates at the SNP conference voted unanimously to devolve drug laws and support decriminalisation of the possession and use of drugs to allow health interventions. The motion, in the name of myself, Ronnie Cowan MP, Alison Thewliss MP and Newington Southside SNP branch, and an amendment put forward by Leith and Portobello Craigmillar branches.

The text of the resolution read:

Conference notes that more than 1000 people died from drug related deaths in Scotland in 2018 and that most of these deaths were avoidable. Conference considers the ever-increasing death toll to be a public emergency.

Conference welcomes the Scottish Government's 2018 drug and alcohol strategy,  “Rights, respect and recovery” and applauds the decision to take a health focussed stance although it notes that the ability of the Scottish Government to act is constrained by the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act which is entirely reserved to Westminster.

Conference has previously called for immediate exemptions to legislation to allow for treatment interventions such as drug consumption rooms; now believes that the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act is not fit for purpose in 21st Century Scotland; calls for urgent reform of this Act; and demands that drugs legislation be devolved to the Scottish parliament.


Add at end: “to allow for decriminalisation of possession and consumption of controlled drugs so that health services are not prevented from giving treatment to those that need it.”


You can watch me proposing the motion here. Make no mistake this is a big development in the policy of the governing party of Scotland. For it to be passed without a single dissenting voice by our annual conference shows just how much opinion has changed on this matter.

July 2019 - The Daily Record calls for the decriminalisation of drug use

In a major development, one of Scotland's main daily newspapers calls for decriminalisation. I really believe the public are on board with this - we need a serious and sensible debate on reforming drugs law. Its high time we had policies based on evidence and the matter is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Read the Daily Record article here.

July 2019 - Drug related death statistics are published

1,187 people died from drug related deaths in Scotland last year. This is a crisis. Many of these deaths were preventable - I hope my colleagues on the Scottish Affairs Committee have the courage to recommend bold actions based on evidence in our drugs inquiry.

June 2019 - 10 Reasons to change your mind about illegal drug use

"Scotland has a drugs crisis. The policies don’t work. We need to wake up and smell the evidence".

Forget what you thought you knew about drugs - I focused on all I had learnt in recent months in my Edinburgh Evening News column.

May 2019 - First evidence session of Scottish Affairs Committee Inquiry

It's been far too long since Scotland's drugs laws were looked at. Society has changed enormously since the early 70s when the Misuse of Drugs Act was enacted, as have drugs themselves. That's why I was pleased to be part of the Scottish Affairs Committee that is looking at how current drugs policy is working and how we can move things forward. This was a big day with the first evidence session taking place. You can watch it back here.

March 2019 - Scottish Affairs Committee inquiry launches

The Scottish Affairs Committee launched its inquiry at Crew2000 in my constituency with significant press interest.

October 2018 - Ronnie Cowan secures Westminster Hall debate on Drug Policy
I took part in a debate on drug reform in Westminster Hall. Whatever the war on drugs was, it’s clearly been lost. You can watch a clip of my speech here and you can watch the full debate here.
March 2018 - Attended Alfie Dingley Campaign Meeting

Remarkable degree of support from across the political parties for the Alfie Dingley campaign to grant him a license to use medical cannabis. Continually amazed that whilst morphine is routinely used in our hospitals, the use of cannabis derived products to end pain is regarded as controversial.