A blanket ban on legal highs: unenforceable

Ban on legal highs, sian Bradley, kettle mag
Written by sianabigail

The desire to alter our consciousness is an age-old one. In the modern world, legal ‘replicas’ of controlled drugs have sprung up everywhere in response to tight drugs laws, and are being sold under household names such as “bath salts”.

In response to this, the Psychoactive Substances Bill was made law on January 28.

However, implementation of the blanket ban, which criminalises the sale of any substance which has ‘psychoactive effects’ on the user, has been delayed beyond its April 6 deadline, under claims their definition of psychoactive substances is vague, and police would be unable to enforce it.

Ban on legal highs, drawing the line

A student and former drug user, who wishes to stay anonymous, said:  “It’s impossible to blanket ban them all because with psychoactive substances, where do you draw the line?”

Under the UK’s impending law, controlled substances, alcohol, nicotine, poppers (as they only have physical effects) and nitrous oxide will still be legal. 

Yet police argue that before conviction, specialist evidence will be needed to prove the substance is psychoactive.

Dr Russell Newcombe, specialist drugs researcher, states that New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) have blurred the distinctions of controlled and licensed drugs.

With NPS appearing every day, and 100 new legal highs appearing on the market in 2015, it’s no surprise EMCDDA describes legal control of them as a “major challenge for Europe’s policymakers”.

Despite this challenge, parliament are confident the bill will be implement in spring.

The worry is that rather than eliminating the drug supply it will be driven underground, into the hands of criminals.

Russell said: “[due to the bill] there will be unintended negative effects – notably a growth in the illicit market for many NPS.” 

Furthermore, even as people escape prosecution for possessing NPS, they could be convicted if they buy them from a non-UK website.

This legal confusion creates conflicting legalities for one person’s purchase and use, and could land you in prison despite no law being placed on consumption. 

Support for users

Tom Usher, freelance journalist, worries about the danger of low-quality NPS.

He said: “I think it may be a good thing if it gets children to stop taking bad legal highs.

“But ultimately it won’t stop anyone; people will always want to do drugs more than anything because they are an escapism.”

Parliament may not think so, but Russell believes drug prohibition is dismally ineffective.

He said: “The government’s own impact assessment suggests that just half a dozen cases will be brought against NPS retailers in the first year.”

This is a relatively small victory against the trade of NPS; so what’s the alternative? 

To sell them under licence, through drug clinics or in controlled amounts, suggests Russell.

He feels this would “diminish enormously” the demand for NPS. This here is the end goal, as the long-term effects of legal highs are unknown and potentially very dangerous.

Whether UK policymakers are responding correctly to a spike in NPS relies heavily on the reality of the ban’s enforcement. All we know for certain is New Psychoactive Substances are unchartered territory, inhabited by people trying to get high with bath salts.