A Fife minister who believes the possession of drugs should be decriminalised is to take up one of the top posts within the Scottish church.
Reverend Iain Greenshields is to become the next Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
The current minister of St Margaret’s Church in Dunfermline has a background in addiction support and thinks drug addiction should be treated as a public health issue.
He said he is “honoured” to have been nominated to take up the 12-month ambassador role next May.
Views on drugs
The 67-year-old minister said he believes locking up people who are often self-medicating to cope with psychological challenges does not work.
Instead, he believes they should be treated in high-quality residential rehabilitation centres.
Rev Greenshields said his views are based on his experiences over many years supporting people through church outreach projects, as well as his role as a prison chaplain and work in the psychiatric chaplaincy.
His role will include chairing the Church of Scotland’s week long General Assembly held in Edinburgh, before taking on an ambassadorial position representing the church for the the next 12 months.
‘Honoured and humbled’
Mr Greenshields, who became a Christian at the age of 22 and was ordained in 1984, said he was “honoured and humbled” to have been chosen.
He added: “There are a great many challenges facing our society today including climate change, poverty, mental health, social isolation, addiction and the Church is active in supporting those in genuine need.
“Ultimately the greatest need in our society is the spiritual vacuum that exists in the lives of so many.”
Mr Greenshields welcomed a recent announcement from Scotland’s Lord Advocate, Dorothy Bain QC, that the police will be advised to issue recorded warnings for possession of any illegal substances instead of referring offenders to prosecutors.
“Whilst I have the upmost sympathy for victims of crime who may have been targeted in order for people to get their hands-on drugs, this is a positive development,” he said.
“I really believe that prison is not the answer for the vast majority of people who are behind bars because of illegal drug issues and we have to find another way to recover their lives.
“When you look into the background of those who take drugs, you realise it is largely about self-medicating to treat some kind of trauma.
“They are in a desperate situation and what is needed is not criminalising them and sending them to prison but ensuring that they get the best rehabilitation support possible.
“This can only be for the betterment of society.
“It will require extensive investment in services but I firmly believe that if you can send someone to prison for a year, why can’t you send them to rehab for the same length of time as an alternative?”
Mr Greenshields spent eight years serving as a chaplain at the former Longriggend Young Offenders’ Institution in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire and nearby Shotts Prison.
“My view on decriminalisation is a personal one and it is not the official position of the Church,” he said.
Key role within Church of Scotland
“I realise that some people will throw their hands up in horror but I am not saying I support drugs, I am just being realistic and pragmatic about the situation.”
A total of 1,339 people died of drug misuse in Scotland last year, with the country seeing a record number of deaths for the seventh year in a row.
Official figures released by the Scottish Government last month revealed that there were 722 drug related deaths between January and June, 2021.
Rev Greenshields will succeed Lord Wallace of Tankerness who currently holds the moderator’s role.