Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Monday, 21 June 2010

Minister warns about inevitable consequences of his own drugs policy

The Minister for Crime Prevention, James Brokenshire has asked organisers of music festivals this year to warn people about legal highs:

Mr Brokenshire said: "During the festival season we know that people may be tempted to try potentially dangerous new drugs, particularly when they are advertised as 'legal' or 'herbal'.

"That is why we are asking festival organisers and police to work with us to send out the message that these substances may not be safe..."

He also talks about how they could be cut with illegal drugs.

However I wanted to focus on one aspect of this that is an inevitable consequence of drug prohibition. One of the factors that adds to the risks of taking legal highs is that they are often fairly new substances which have been formulated to ensure they are not chemically identical to substances that are banned but that have the same or similar effects. But of course if what you have is a new substance then the short and long-term side-effects of it is going to be either unknown or at the very least there will be little data on it.

Of course most of these legal highs are just trying to emulate existing drugs that have been around and used for dozens, hundreds or even thousands of years (such as cannabis, ecstasy, cocaine etc.). The short and long term effects of many of these drugs are well known. Oh, but of course they are illegal.

So a predictable response to government drug policy, the production of alternative chemical highs could actually expose those taking them to more danger than there would have been had they instead just taken the drug that the legal chemical was trying to emulate.

There is also this in the statement from the minister:

He also said drug laws would be changed so temporary bans could be introduced on "emerging substances" while scientific advice is sought.

That sounds like a recipe for legislative and administrative disaster. Are they going to ban any newly designed chemical that might possibly get people high in some way, even if they may have other useful benefits? What about alternatives that may be synthesised to existing solvents for example? Inhaled, these may get people high. Will they be banned too? I can see this whole area rapidly degenerating into an absolute mess.

Instead of fiddling around issuing pointless "advice" about the inevitable consequences of their own policy and trying to legislate to allow them to potentially ban all unknown chemicals, the government would be better off with a fundamental review of their entire drugs policy. They are on the record as saying they will look at evidence in relation to policy. They should follow through on this rhetoric and do so in the area of drugs where evidence has been so lacking in the last few decades.

PS: Apologies for all the postings about drugs policy recently but in my defence there is a lot of muddled thinking out there!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Four years ago, a select committee produced a devastating critique of Government drugs policy. The report proposed a scientific basis for classification based on harm rather than political imperative. Here, I hope.

The government might do well to give it attention. It's even more pertinent now than when it was written - mephedrone, etc.