5 Reasons Why The UK Blanket Ban Is A Disaster
If you live in the UK, or pay attention to news across Europe, you will likely have heard that the new UK conservative government has just published a bill to blanket ban all psychoactive substances - in a bid to combat the ever changing nature of ‘legal highs’. It is going to cause a lot more problems than it fixes.
Here are five reasons the move is catastrophically dire:
1. IT SPELLS AN END FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH
According to Professor David Nutt, former chief drug advisor to the UK government, a blanket ban on psychoactive substances is going to bring an end to brain research in the UK. “It will be disastrous. The ban on legal highs has been very destructive to research into Parkinson’s and into anti-smoking drugs.”
It is a sentiment felt by many scientists in the field, who are already very restricted in what they can do. The blanket ban will make it almost impossible for researchers to obtain the drugs and chemicals they need. Nutt went on to say, “If I want to work on a new treatment for Parkinson’s which is based on chemicals similar to Benzo Fury (a now illegal high), then it will take me a year to get a licence,” he said. “How are they going to exempt scientists? If I ring up a company selling compounds, how are they going to know I’m a scientist?”
The ban will also halt production of new, safer drugs. For example, a safer alternative to alcohol is being worked on, but under the new law, it will be illegal unless specifically exempted. However, it cannot be exempted until its research and creation is finished, but it cannot be researched or created until it is exempted.
2. IT CREATES LEGAL ARBITRARINESS AND OVERCRIMINALIZATION
A blanket ban is a horrendously heavy-handed power that leaves the definition of illegality open to a lot of interpretation. The new bill defines a psychoactive substance as anything that is “stimulating or depressing the person's central nervous system, affects the person's mental functioning or emotional state". This means that things like eye drops, air fresheners, and even flowers (amongst many other things) will technically become illegal. Each of these, in their own way, falls into the above definition. The UK government just effectively banned everything. How are the police going to enforce it? How are they going to avoid overcriminilization with such a broad law? Sure, it is initially meant to stop the use of ‘legal highs’, but how will it develop as people begin to interpret it differently?
3. IT DOUBLES DOWN ON AN ALREADY FAILED STRATEGY
The idea behind this new law is that people are using these drugs because they are technically legal, so if they are made illegal, people will stop using them. What this new law fails to consider is why people are using drugs at all in the first place. Sure, if there is a legal alternative to an illegal drug then it is going to be appealing, but making highs illegal doesn’t remove the underlying desire to take drugs. If anything this new law will push people to other substances like heroine, and bolster the black market – as well as create a new demand and venture into "legal highs" for it. This was shown by a Home Office report that found the blanket ban in Ireland (which is nowhere near as harsh as this one) was driving more people to heroin.
4. IT LEAVES OUT THE MOST PROBLEMATIC SUBSTANCES
This new ban makes everything illegal with the exception of government approved substances, such as alcohol, tobacco and sugar. The thing is, these are by far the most deadly substances available, much more so than legal highs, MDMA, or cannabis. Alcohol, tobacco and sugar all fall under the new law’s definition of psychoactive, and each of them is currently responsible for the epidemic of bad health the UK is currently going through. It makes you wonder at the governments' reasoning for such a law. Is it really because they are concerned about the population’s health and safety? Because if it was, they would be doing more to fight these three substances instead – but of course, these three are taxed!
5. IT IS AN ATTACK ON PERSONAL FREEDOM
Probably the most scary thing about this law, it is a huge affront to personal freedom. For centuries, residents of the UK have enjoyed the liberty to consume what they want, when they want, unless it was a substance expressly prohibited by the ruling faction. Now, everything is banned. You can’t consume anything, unless it is expressly approved by the ruling faction. This is a monumental and extreme shift in power, and is almost akin to a “big brother” style society. It is terrifying the government is trying to wield such broad and unabashed power to limit the freedom of the individual. It is no exaggeration when we say everything is banned under such a broad definition (see above point on overcriminilization); sure, it is in the name of banning legal highs now, but what about the future? The law is so broad that it could be abused by just about anyone in power.
The UK faces worrying times. This new bill is currently going through the House of Lords, where possible amendments may be suggested before returning to parliament. Let us hope they have the foresight to do everything they can to get this new law abandoned or changed, because as the way things are, the UK could soon be returning to a period of archaic, feudal style law.