Wales needs the right to form its own drug policy, Plaid Cymru has said, responding to controversial new drug policies announced by Westminster this week.

The Welsh Government, meanwhile, says that recent UK policies, including restrictions to protest and the targeting of asylum seekers, underline the need for devolved justice.

This week the UK government unveiled its plan to tackle climbing drug deaths across the country, announcing controversial proposals to seize the driving licenses and passports of drug users alongside new funding for drug treatment services.

“We need to look at new ways of penalising them — things that will actually interfere with their lives,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told The Sun newspaper on Sunday.

The National Wales: Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined police on a drug raid in Liverpool earlier this week. (Source: PA Wire)Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined police on a drug raid in Liverpool earlier this week. (Source: PA Wire)

Other plans include introducing night-time curfews and travel bans for drug users, and new powers for the police to contact users through phones seized from arrested drug dealers.

Meanwhile The Telegraph newspaper reported yesterday that “abstinence-based” treatment programmes are set to be introduced in prisons, replacing methadone – with prisons around the country ranked on a “national league table” according to the number of addicts they have in their care.

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Of these policies, a Welsh Government told The National today: “In Wales we already see substance misuse as a health issue and take a harm reduction approach to supporting those who most need it.

“We believe there is a more effective approach towards drug policy than the one pursued by the UK government.

“We will continue to push for the recommendations of the independent Commission on Justice in Wales to be implemented.

“Recent UK government changes – including the erosion of human rights for people granted Group 2 refugee status and restrictions on the right to protest - strengthen our view that change is needed.”

When asked whether ministers would explore blocking all or part of the drug plan’s punitive measures through a Legislative Consent Memorandum, as they did for part of the UK’s Nationality and Borders Bill earlier this week, the Welsh Government did not respond.

The National also asked whether ministers had been consulted by their Westminster counterparts about the new plans, but the Welsh Government did not comment.

Plaid Cymru, meanwhile, was more directly critical of the new proposals, but the party also stopped short of suggesting the Senedd could or should attempt to block them.

“The decades long Westminster war on drugs has failed,” Rhys ab Owen, Plaid’s justice and constitution spokesperson, told The National.

“Further reactionary policies and further excluding drug users from society will only make things worse.

“It is about time that Wales can form its own drug policy which is completely aligned with the devolved health system.

“Treating drug users as criminals does not work and benefits no-one.”

The National Wales: Plaid Cymru's Rhys ab Owen said "the war on drugs has failed". (Source: Huw Evans Agency)Plaid Cymru's Rhys ab Owen said "the war on drugs has failed". (Source: Huw Evans Agency)

Like the Welsh Government, ab Owen asserted that the answer lay in devolving policing and justice powers to Wales, calling the situation as it stands – with Westminster controlling criminal justice in Wales but not in Scotland or Northern Ireland – an “anomaly”.

Last month marked two years since the Commission on Justice in Wales, which examined the Welsh justice system on every level – concluding that our current arrangement results in “serious disadvantages” for people in Wales not experienced by those in any other UK country.

Despite this, the most recent available data suggests that Wales saw a lower drug-related death rate in 2020 than both England and Scotland – though this discrepancy may be down to a pandemic-related delay in registering deaths on the official record.

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According to the Office for National Statistics, Wales began this past decade with a higher rate of drug misuse deaths than in any region of England. We also have the highest imprisonment rate in Western Europe.

Scotland, where justice is devolved, is currently exploring its own policy answers to the problem of drug deaths.

The country reported its highest number of drug deaths on record last year, and in response, Holyrood announced that some people caught with Class A drugs in the country may soon receive police cautions as an alternative to prosecution.

The Scottish government may also soon trial “drug consumption rooms” – supervised centres for drug users, in which trained staff can provide clean needles and anti-overdose medication as needed.

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