The government’s new Psychoactive Substances Bill, (recently passed by parliament) not only ranks as one of the most deeply flawed, dangerous and counter-productive pieces of legislation ever devised, but also provides further evidence – if further evidence were needed – that either the lunatics have finally taken over the asylum or that our political masters are far more interested in pacifying media criticism than protecting the people they were was elected to protect.
In a bungled attempt to counteract media criticism surrounding the use of ‘legal highs’, the government has rushed through a bill that makes it a criminal offence (punishable by seven years imprisonment) for anyone to produce, distribute, import, sell or supply any product containing a ‘psychoactive’ substance unless that substance has been specifically exempted prior to its use.
However, there is no clear legal definition in the bill as to what exactly constitutes a ‘psychoactive’ substance.
Leaving only the vague dictionary meaning of ‘something that can alter brain chemistry’ – which covers a staggering array of everyday items from church incense to herbal remedies, nutmeg to Stilton cheese, perfumes to almost every flower (and flowering plant) on the planet – as the only guideline for judging whether or not we are breaking the law.
Perhaps even more disturbing than the ineptitude of the bill itself, is the fact that home secretary Theresa May not only consistently ignored arguments from research scientists, herbal practitioners and numerous other organisations and individuals that the bill should delayed until the problems of ‘collateral damage’ could be addressed, but also her deliberate refusal to fulfil her legal obligations (under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971) that required her to consult with The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs during its preparation – choosing instead to consult with her own hand-picked ‘experts’ whom she already knew would go along with her stance.
Her actions are even more difficult to justify when one considers that she had evidence from Ireland (which introduced similar legislation in 2010 and on which the British model is based) that showed an almost doubling in the use of ‘legal highs’, an increased risk of harm to users and only four successful prosecutions in five years.
In fact, such is the level of failure of the Irish legislation that the minister in charge of the Irish national drugs strategy, with the full support of the Irish police, recently announced that Ireland will soon enact a ‘radical cultural shift’ towards decriminalising all recreational drugs, including cannabis, cocaine, heroin and ecstasy.
It appears that the Irish government has finally seen the elephant in the room and acknowledged the historical reality that prohibition simply doesn’t work because whenever governments ban something that the public wants; three things happen almost immediately:
1) criminals take over the production and supply;
2) quality control goes out the window, and
3) millions of otherwise law abiding citizens are criminalised.
This is quickly followed by ever escalating levels of violence, corruption, overstretched police resources and public expenditure.
People are killed in the battle for a greater share of the illicit market, users die from the absence of proper quality control and governments frequently compound the problem by producing more and more deeply flawed laws.
One might be forgiven for thinking that governments should have learned a lesson from the disastrous introduction of prohibition in the United States in the 1920s which provided a perfect opportunity for Al Capone and other gangsters to satisfy the public’s desire for alcohol, resulting in thousands of deaths, widespread corruption and organised crime becoming entrenched in American society.
But, for reasons I find impossible to comprehend, most are still refusing to face the fact that not only do people want effective recreational drugs other than alcohol, but also that, regardless of what politicians try to do, the laws of supply and demand always triumph in the end and the only real choice is whether the drugs will be provided with or without the intervention of Al Capone.
Sadly, both Theresa May and David Cameron seem determined to keep Al Capone in the equation, and, if young people continue to die from dangerous ‘cannabis substitutes’, it is in no small part due to their refusal to consider making much safer varieties of natural cannabis available by bringing the production and supply of recreational drugs under similar legal controls to those of alcohol – but that would mean putting the welfare of our young people before political expediency and that is very unlikely to happen.
De Cham Avenue
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