Is the legal high bill the craziest drug law ever passed?

The Novel Psychoactive Substances Bill passed without a vote could ban chocolate and nutmeg.

The Novel Psychoactive Substances Bill proposes to ban anything with a “psychoactive effect” – Loaded
“Psychoactive effect” What that means is still unclear to experts, lawyers and police. Image Photo Illustration by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Yesterday MPs debated the long-delayed Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS) Bill in the House Of Commons, passing it without a vote.

The new law, which bans anything deemed to have a “psychoactive effect” on people, aims to target the supposed boom in the use of legal highs, which started with the rise in the use of mephodrome – known as meow meow – in the 00s.

“Legislating on this issue is the right thing to do, however doing so at speed may be counterproductive”

The Bill has faced a huge backlash from experts, lawyers and police. They argue that goods available in a supermarket – including nutmeg, chocolate and coffee – could be deemed to have a “psychoactive effect”.

The legislation, first mooted in the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament last year, will introduce a blanket ban on the production, distribution, sale and supply of so-called ‘legal highs’.

The previous delay was the result of advice against the Bill from the Advisory Council On The Misuse Of Drugs (ACMD) last year. ACMD said there are fears that exactly what the bill targets is unclear, and would also result in a more dangerous trade for young and vulnerable people who use the substances.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, said: “Legislating on this issue is the right thing to do. However, doing so at speed without any consultation may be counterproductive.”

The Novel Psychoactive Substances Bill proposes to ban anything with a “psychoactive effect” – Loaded
End of the road Experts fear the Novel Psychoactive Substances Bill will force sales of substances currently available in ‘head shops’ underground. Image Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images

If it weren’t for how alarming the Bill itself is, watching a bunch of buffoons try to debate something they clearly have no idea about would be utterly hilarious. Many drug names were mispronounced during the debate and medical evidence misunderstood.

The Bill also aims to ban poppers – widely used in the gay community – in spite of opposition from the ACMD and Labour tabling an amendment to exclude them from the new law.

The ACMD’s report into whether poppers should be included in the NPS Bill concluded that they are “not seen to be capable of having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a societal problem”.

“I use poppers and I’m astonished by the proposal to ban them” – Conservative MP Crispin Blunt

The report concluded: “We recommend they should not be banned. If in the future there is any evidence produced to the contrary, then ‘poppers’ should be removed from the exempted list or controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.”

Conservative MP Crispin Blunt admitted to using poppers during the debate in an attempt to stop the ban. He described it as “crazy”, continuing: “I use poppers and would be directly affected by the Bill. I am astonished by the proposal to ban them, as are many other gay men.”

Despite his speech, Labour’s amendment was defeated by 81 votes.

Research from the ACMD last year suggested that NPS use is actually shrinking. Further fears are that the Bill could hinder research into child psychology as well as forcing the production and distribution of legal highs underground. ACMD stated this would result in more dangerous products available on the black market than are currently available in legal high-street head shops.

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Loaded reporter Robert McCallum has written for many leading culture magazines and websites about music, sport, science, politics, fashion and arts. Follow Robert at @therobmccallum

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