Claim that 'using crack and heroin is permitted' in Glasgow's Govanhill is False 5

Claim that ‘using crack and heroin is permitted’ in Glasgow’s Govanhill is False

Drug deaths are rising once again in Scotland, leading to increasing controversy over the required policy responses, from preventing harm to helping people recover from problematic drug use.

An image circulated by a number of social media accounts this week featured a poster put up on billboards in Glasgow, bearing city council logos and branding, claiming the “use of crack and heroin is permitted in this area”. 

Posters have since been removed but images and videos showed they were posted in Govanhill, in the south of the city.

Claim that 'using crack and heroin is permitted' in Glasgow's Govanhill is False 6

Posters showing “Crack and heroin zone. Use of crack and heroin is permitted in this area.”

Social media posts

A widely shared image was posted by an anonymous account under the handle Agent P who asked: “How did that happen?”

Ferret Fact Service looked at this claim and found it False.

Claim that 'using crack and heroin is permitted' in Glasgow's Govanhill is False 7

Evidence

The posters appeared on unofficial billboard sites in Govanhill in recent days. Using Glasgow City Council branding and logos, the posters designate the area as a “Crack and heroin zone” and that “use of crack and heroin is permitted in this area”.

Former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been the MSP for Govanhill since 2003 and the area has attracted a high level of political scrutiny as a result. 

The area has high levels of child poverty and residents have repeatedly reported issues with anti-social behaviour including fly tipping and drug dealing.

Over the last year a series of posters, bearing very similar text, have appeared in cities across England, in Dublin, Amsterdam and other European cities.

The first ones were in London last July, and featured a number of central London borough and Metropolitan Police logos and the text: “The sale and use of crack and heroin is permitted in this area”.

It later emerged they were the work of Patterned Up, a collective of street artists that uses satirical work to critique big brands like Sainsbury’s and allegedly exploitative practices, such as that of the gambling industry. At last year’s Glastonbury Festival, Patterned Up set-up a spoof betting shop called BrokeLads.

The anonymous artists’ collective has previously told interviewers that the posters are in support of decriminalisation and aim to drive debate about the harm done by the UK’s current drug laws.

Patterned Up confirmed to Ferret Fact Service it was behind the Glasgow posters, in collaboration with a local street artist known as ‘Spicebag’.

A spokesperson said it aimed to put up the notices “pretty much everywhere with laws that criminalise individuals who are addicted to crack and heroin”, adding, “we believe in decriminalisation”.

Glasgow City Council confirmed the posters were fakes, and not connected to the local authority. 

Scotland’s drug laws

Drug laws in Scotland are controlled by Westminster. Under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act, which is still law across the UK, heroin and crack cocaine are class A drugs, and offences related to these substances attract the toughest penalties.

In September 2021 Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain announced that in Scotland police would have the option to offer a recorded warning for those found to be in possession of class A drugs for personal use, instead of referring them to the courts.

In coming months, Scotland will also open the UK’s first safer drug consumption facility in Glasgow. People will be able to bring their own drugs to the facility and will not be prosecuted for doing so. However, there are no geographical areas in Scotland where drug taking has been legalised. 

In July 2023 the Scottish Government proposed decriminalisation of all drugs “for personal supply” to “allow people to be treated and supported rather than criminalised and excluded”. The proposals were rejected by the UK Government and criticised by the Scottish Conservatives as “reckless” and “a green light to organised crime”.

Last September Glasgow City Council supported a motion, by SNP councillor Allan Casey, to formally support the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use. The local authority has no powers to change drug laws, so this is not enforceable.

Some claim that the Scottish Government has over-promoted harm reduction and medically assisted treatments such as opiate replacement therapy and heroin assisted treatment, at the expense of recovery-focussed approaches.

The Scottish Conservatives have since lodged the Right to Recovery Bill, which is also backed by three Scottish Labour MSPs. It calls for everyone to be able to legally access the treatment and support they need to recover from addiction to drugs.

Neither the Conservatives or Labour – the UK’s largest parties – have backed proposed Scottish Government drug reforms.

Ferret Fact Service verdict: False

Glasgow City Council have confirmed the posters are fake, and not connected to the local authority. The posters have been claimed as the work of art collective Patterned Up, which aims to promote discussion about the decriminalisation of drugs.

The use of crack and heroin is not legally permitted in Govanhill. 

This claim is false

Cover image thanks to iStock/Roman Budnyi

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