Why New Law Banning All Psychoactive Substances Will Be Just Another ‘War On Drugs’ Disaster
New restrictive drug policy in the UK could effectively ban all "psychoactive" substances - but will more policing solve the problem?This article originally appeared on I Fucking Love Science
The recent passing of a new addition to the British statute books, which will come into effect on April 6th, is the latest in a long line of poorly drafted drug laws.
The new law, to act in parallel with the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, effectively bans all substances – with the exception of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine – with a “psychoactive effect” on “normal brain functioning”. The awful irony of a UK government exempting two of the most individually and socially harmful substances has not been lost on concerned commentators.
So where exactly has this nonsensical law come from? How on earth have we got ourselves into this situation? And will it work? To answer that, it’s worth reflecting on the emergence of novel psychoactive substances (NPS), or so called legal highs.
In 2009, club drug researchers first heard talk of the stimulant NPS mephedrone or “M-Cat” at UK clubs and after parties. At that time, there was growing disillusionment among users with the purity of popular illegal club drugs – as one of our interviewees put it, there was “a dire drug drought” characterised by low purity MDMA tablets. As another interviewee claimed, there were “no drugs in drugs anymore”. Indeed, between 2007-2009, the MDMA content of pills plummeted, fake ecstasy pills containing the headache-inducing, banned substance benzylpiperazine (BZP) were rife, and cocaine purity dropped to less than 10%.
As a consequence, those drug-takers who could afford it, switched from ecstasy pills to purer MDMA crystal or powder. And by 2009, club goers – especially those in South London’s gay club scene – also began adding mephedrone to their polydrug repertoires, sometimes with tragic consequences (it is, after all, chemically similar to amphetamine).