TORY leadership hopeful Rishi Sunak has faced cross-party condemnation after pledging to be “incredibly tough” on drug users should he become prime minister.

Speaking at a Tory leadership hustings in Darlington, Sunak reportedly said: “Drugs are horrific. There is nothing recreational about them. I have never taken them and will be incredibly tough on anyone who does.”

Speaking to The National, SNP MP and vocal advocate of drug law reform Ronnie Cowan described Sunak’s remarks as “callous and cruel”, and said that the former chancellor had displayed “an incredible ignorance of the subject matter.”

Cowan said that Sunak “can't possibly believe that nobody takes drugs recreationally”, adding: “He should ask his own party's MPs about that. Many have and some still do partake. 

“By pursuing the same policies of criminalising, persecuting and prosecuting that we have followed for over fifty years, he can only expect the same outcome. Increasing drugs deaths, increasing addiction and harm, and increasing the number of people being incarcerated.”

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon reveals what it was like to work with Boris Johnson

Cowan maintained that the UK Government is standing in the way of safe consumption rooms – supervised healthcare facilities where drug users can consume drugs in safe conditions - saying: "Until we accept that drug abuse and addiction is a health issue and not a criminal justice one, we shall always be inclined to persecute those affected.”

Scottish Labour MSP Paul Sweeney, who has proposed legislation in Holyrood to introduce safe consumption rooms in Scotland, told The National that Sunak’s comments show how “depressingly out of touch” he has become in his bid for Number 10.

Noting that one main driver for drug misuse is poverty, Sweeney said: “It’s no surprise that the richest man to ever sit in the House of Commons can’t begin to understand why people misuse drugs when he’s never experienced a single second of hardship in his life.”

Scottish Green justice spokesperson Maggie Chapman said that the Tories’ approach to drugs had “demonstrably failed, both in terms of restricting the misuse of drugs and in protecting people and communities from the harm [they] cause. No amount of rhetoric or demonisation from Rishi Sunak can change that.”

The National: National Extra Scottish politics newsletter banner

Chapman called for a new approach which treated drugs as a public health emergency, and focuses upon tackling inequality and providing “support, rehabilitation and dignity.”

Scottish LibDem drugs spokesperson Ben Lawrie added that Sunak is “stuck in the 20th century”, saying that the UK has fought a war on drugs where “the most vulnerable are the casualities”, and the solution is to learn from the policies of those countries which focus on harm reduction.

In addition to safe consumption rooms, Lawrie said, this meant new specialist Family Drug and Alcohol Commissions, an end to imprisonment for possession, and a regulated cannabis market, which would take “it out of the hands of criminals and provide a much-needed boost for the Treasury."