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Thursday, March 10, 2016 

The only legislation worse than the Psychoactive Substances Bill is the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Great as it is to see this most unholy of governments defeated on anything, it does rather sum up the priorities of the few rebellious Tories that they chose to do so on the liberalising of Sunday trading laws.  I happen to be one of those stick in the muds whom think six hours opening for big stores on a Sunday is plenty long enough, if only down to how it's a good thing that one day a week is slightly different to all the rest.  That said, considering most stores would have only opened for another couple of hours anyway, the idea it was going to be make any humongous difference, creating squillions of jobs or kept Sundays "special" is utterly specious.  Much like the SNP reasoning for opposing it, in fact.

It's not as though there's been a lack of execrable legislation to oppose of late.  The £30 cut to the Work Related Activity Group of Employment and Support Allowance was voted through just this week.  Way out on in a field all of its own is still, without a shadow of a doubt, the Psychoactive Substances Act, passed in late January.  This is quite possibly the worst single piece of law making in a generation.  Think the Dangerous Dogs Act, the "repetitive beats" part of the Criminal Justice Act of 94, the indeterminate sentences part of the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the indefinite detention without charge for foreign nationals section of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001 are bad?  None have anything on an act quite as scientifically illiterate and downright as idiotic as the PSA is.

The PSA is meant to deal with the problems posed by "legal highs".  Rather than criminalise each new chemical as it hits the market, the bill outlaws any substance that has a "psychoactive effect", except for all the drugs the bill later declares are exempt, i.e. caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, etc.  It does in a way make a certain amount of sense: no one can know the potential risks to health posed by these new, often slightly altered compounds of the drugs we all know and love, as they certainly aren't being subjected to double blind trials and peer review.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that Spice/Black Mamba and all the other assorted variants are more harmful with wildly worse side effects than vanilla cannabis, for instance.  Which again makes sense: if you're creating a new drug purely for "recreational" use, rather than as MDMA/LSD and other drugs were discovered in the course of research for new medicines, why wouldn't you try your darnedest to make it both more powerful and more addictive than what's already available?

Except, if the ultimate goal is to reduce harm and safeguard the public, the obvious follow on is to accept people are always going to want to enjoy themselves, a certain percentage are always going to want to get high, and almost everyone is going to experiment at some point.  Apart from the relatively few heads from places like Erowid who want to sample every new chemical that emerges, the vast majority are going to be perfectly happy with passing round a spliff of a weekend or taking MDMA when going out clubbing.  We know because of how long those drugs have been around, because of the studies that have been done on casual and long-term users, and also to an extent through common sense that while there is no such thing as a safe drug, the harms and risks associated with a whole host of currently controlled substances are no greater and often far fewer than those posed by either alcohol or tobacco.

The only reason legal highs have become so popular is because the alternatives are illegal.  Rather than look at this development, recognise that however good our intentions, prohibition has not worked, cannot work and has in fact been counter-productive, the government and politicians almost as a whole have chosen to double down.  Instead of accepting this point has been reached because the policy is a bad one, the decision has been made to make things even worse.  The only result, as witnessed in Ireland, is that the head shops that have sprang up to sell these highs will close and the trade will switch to an even greater extent to the internet and the black market.  It will not disappear.  Sure, some have pointed towards how the PSA does not criminalise personal use, which is a very slight positive, but that only underlines how wrong headed the continued criminalisation of possession for personal use of cannabis, MDMA, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms and khat is.  As was about the only widely reported take from the passage of the bill through parliament, it even bans poppers or amyl nitrate, a substance so benign and so fleeting in effect some would get more of a high off a can of Monster or a high street latte (and would no doubt enjoy it more too).

When a political party does then take the time and effort to plan out what decriminalising and establishing a controlled market for cannabis would look like, it's rather dispiriting to see what little response there was attacking the messengers.  Yes, the Liberal Democrats are a bunch of traitors Abi Wilkinson, perhaps even akin to a leery divorced dad that tries to bed one of your older schoolmates after everyone's become a little worse for wear at a party round at his place, but how about considering the content just this once, eh?  It's by no means perfect, it seems naive to say the least to expect that home growing wouldn't expand even further, and some will immediately blanch at how patrician, state-controlled and highly regulated the enterprise would be, with only three relatively low strengths available, and yet it provides an outline that can be adapted and worked on.  The whole framework is evidence based, worked on by recognised experts, and they're making themselves available to any political party, not just the Lib Dems.  If Labour had any sense it would steal the policy and the panel for itself.

Only they won't, as we're no nearer reaching the point where evidence trumps ignorance, prejudice, hypocrisy and claims to be protecting the public while doing the exact opposite.  The PSA and its procession through parliament with no real problems, despite the effect it will have on currently legitimate businesses demonstrates that.  Failing to extend Sunday trading won't create jobs or boost the economy, but what about those likely to be made unemployed thanks to the utter stupidity of the PSA?  How many more jobs could be created, how much could the economy gain, and how much tax could be brought in just by legalising and regulating cannabis?  In the end you suspect that will be what it comes down to, not the waste of time and money, not to forget life of prosecuting and jailing users and those who deal only in cannabis.  Rather it will be the amount the exchequer loses by refusing to make policy in the most sensible, decent and least harmful way.

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