Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Psychoactive Substances bill is unenforceable


In January 2016 the Tories succeeded in putting the ridiculously anti-scientific and irrational Psychoactive Substances Act onto the statute books. This ludicrous and highly controversial piece of legislation which bans the use of substances that don't even exist yet was due to come into force in April 2016 but it has been postponed indefinitely because legal and medical experts alike have told the government that it's so poorly written that it's literally unenforceable.

The Irish evidence the Tories ignored


The Psychoactive Substances Act was modelled on a similar "screw the science - let's ban everything" piece of legislation that was passed in Ireland.

The evidence from Ireland is damning. The Irish "let's just ban everything" bill that was introduced in 2010 led to a dramatic increase of synthetic designer drugs usage from 16 to 22% of the teenage population. Since the ban Ireland has experienced the second fastest rate of increased synthetic designer drug usage in the entire EU, and by far the highest overall rate of usage.

Any politician who gives the remotest damn about the legislation they are voting into law must surely consider the consequences of the original bit of legislation it is designed to copy. However it's absolutely clear that hundreds of Tory MPs didn't scrutinise the evidence at all. All those MPs just voted in the way Theresa May told them to regardless of the stack of negative evidence.

If anyone needed any further proof that the right-wing authoritarian prohibitionist mentality is based on ideology and not evidence, then this is it.

Unenforceability

The Irish evidence shows that hardly anyone has been prosecuted under their version of the bill because of difficulties over the term "psychoactive". Unless an expert can be found to prove that the novel compound actually does produce a psychoactive effect, then the prosecution could never succeed.

It's not like it's any kind of surprise that this staggeringly inept piece of legislation is unenforceable, the Tories were warned by their own drug advisers that it would be unenforceable in July 2015, long before they decided to vote it into law regardless.

The fact that Theresa May completely disregarded the concerns of the government's own drugs advisers and pushed ahead with this utterly flawed piece of legislation is bad enough, but the fact that her fellow MPs simply voted such idiocy into law because they were told to by the party whips is probably even worse.

Warped priorities


The gobbledygook legislation leads to a bizarre situation that the first research into the effects of novel compounds that people are taking for recreational purposes won't be to determine whether they're actually safe for human consumption, it'll be to determine whether the compounds have any "psychoactive effects" in order to provide evidence to support prosecution of the vendor, regardless of whether the compound is actually harmful or not!

A piece of legislation which generates such warped research priorities is clearly absurd. However what is even more absurd is the way that Theresa May and the Tories have set the propaganda narrative that this dangerously incoherent, anti-scientific, evidence-ignoring, weird priority creating rubbish is necessary in order to "protect the public".

Regulation vs prohibition

The ban in Ireland led to a wave of closures of so-called "head shops", but the huge rise in usage since the ban came into effect (as detailed above) proves that the ban simply drove the market for novel psychoactive compounds underground.

The rational drugs policy argument is that the sale of recreational drugs should be legalised, taxed and regulated. The tax money could be used to conduct research into the actual effects of the drugs (harms, addictiveness, safe dosage levels etc), provide unbiased safety information for users, enforce market regulation andprovide rehabilitation for the minority who become problem users. Even after taking those costs into account there would be plenty left over from the taxes raised to contribute towards other socially beneficial things like the NHS or the education system.

Nobody sane is arguing for a drugs free-for-all where powerful psychoactive compounds and addictive substances are sold alongside the kids' sweets in supermarkets. The ideal places would be licensed and regulated pharmacists and "head shops".

The prohibitionist ideology results in drugs market being handed over to criminal gangs with no compunctions about selling to children and vulnerable people, drug pushing, hawking adulterated substances and dangerously irregular doses, and pay no tax on their profits either.

Surely if "head shops" are selling potentially dangerous substances, then the rational solution would be to regulate them, rather than introducing legislation designed to put them out of business and transfer control of the entire market to completely unregulated and untaxed black market gangs?


Why do novel designer drugs even exist?

Even if we neglect the fact that this botched piece of legislation is so incoherently drafted that it's unenforceable, the slightest examination of the claim that it's meant to crack down on dangerous "legal highs", presents a huge problem for the ideologically driven prohibitionist to explain.

It's beyond doubt that the rise of synthetic drugs like Spice are a direct consequence of the prohibition of drugs like cannabis (the naturally occurring substance that Spice has been designed to imitate).

If people are taking potentially harmful synthetic drugs to imitate the effects of a relatively harmless naturally occurring substance that humans have been consuming for at least ten thousand years, surely the sensible solution is to end prohibition of the relatively harmless substance rather than hand control of the market for the synthetic substitute over to unregulated, untaxed criminal gangs too?


Swimming against the tide

In seeking to further criminalise people who take psychoactive substances the Westminster political class are swimming against the political tide. Despite decades of fearmongering lies and rhetoric in the pages of the right-wing press, utterly bizarre government propaganda campaigns and absurd anti-drugs propaganda dressed up as independent drugs advice from organisations like Talk to Frank, public opinion is gradually moving against ideological prohibitionism and towards rational drugs policies.

The legislative tide is turning across the world. Several countries have decriminalised drug use and others have gone further, fully legalising the use of previously banned substances. Uruguay has fully legalised cannabis, Portugal has decriminalised all drugs (leading to a rapid decline in crime and drug related deaths), 
possession of small amounts of drugs has been decriminalised in Ecuador, the Czech Republic and Costa Rica too, Argentina has recognised the right to take psychoactive substances as a constitutional right, and even in the US (the country that pushed ideologically driven prohibitionism on the rest of the world in the first place) cannabis has been fully legalised in five states, decriminalised in fourteen other states and decriminalised for medical use in eleven others.

In October 2015 the United Nations were due to announce a relaxation in their stance on recreational drugs use, but apparently one country vetoed the change of policy towards the decriminalisation of recreational drugs use. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the country that vetoed the policy change announcement was the United Kingdom, given the way the Westminster establishment seem so desperately keen to swim against the global tide that is flowing towards rational drugs policy and away from ideologically driven prohibitionism.


Conclusion

The fact that such an absurdly incoherent, anti-scientific, evidence-ignoring and unworkable piece of legislation found its way onto the statute books in the first place is damning evidence of Theresa May's incompetence, and the pathetic way in which Tory MPs vote stuff into law without even listening to expert opinion or thinking about whether the legislation is even coherently written, simply because they're told to by the party whips.

Not only are the Tories determined to swim against the tide by bringing in even more ideologically driven right-wing authoritarian prohibitionist policies while much of the rest of the world has finally started listening to expert opinion and begun moving towards rational drugs policies, the legislation the Tories have come up with is so incoherently drafted that it's literally unenforceable!


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