Another day, another call for drug legalisation

New legal highs are coming on the market every week
New legal highs are coming on the market every week
Ian Dunt By

The seemingly endless series of reports from parliamentary committees and expert organisations calling for reform of Britain's drug policy continued today, after a cross-party group of peers called for a change in the law.

The Lords' all-party parliamentary group on drug policy reform, chaired by crossbench peer Baroness Meacher, demanded the government holds back from banning new 'legal highs' and instead adopts a New Zealand-style system of testing and regulating the substances.

"Under these controls suppliers would be limited to certain outlets and required to label their product with a clear description of its contents, its risks and the maximum advisable dose," the report said.

A new psychoactive synthetic drug emerges on the market in the UK every week and most experts agree the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act is incapable of dealing with the rate of change.

Under planned changes to the law, the government would ban drugs until shown otherwise, in a legally murky move which will see it make substances which do not exist illegal.

Under current law, new legal highs are subject to a temporary banning order for 12 months, which is usually made permanent after that period.

The banning order prevents the supply of the drug but does not criminalise the user.

The first drug to come under the system's remit was mephedrone, also known as 'miaow miaow', followed by methoxetamine, also known as 'mexxy'. Both were subject to a sustained tabloid campaign about their dangers, although questions have been raised about the accuracy of the coverage.

"The greatest risk to young people from new psychoactive substances derives from the absence of reliable information about the contents and strength of each substance and its effects both short and long term," the report said.

"The name of the substance may tell a user little about its contents, and the contents may change from week to week. The more substances are banned the more are created and the greater uncertainties for consumers."

"The parliamentary report on drugs policy issued today is only the most recent call for changes to a legislative landscape that has ineffectively sought to curb drugs availability and use over the last 40 years," Daniel Bear, a researcher on drugs policy at the London School of Economics (LSE), commented.

"While many people fear that decriminalisation will lead to increased use, there is little evidence to support such fears, and even less evidence that the current punitive sanctions provide any sort of positive return on investment for society."

The report comes weeks after a home affairs committee demand for a royal commission into whether Britain's drug laws should be overturned. The government quickly ruled out any such move.


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