Last year Parliament almost unanimously passed the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013. The bill ended the policy of attempting to regulate new recreational chemicals under the Misuse of Drugs Act and instead established an evidence-based regime which allowed substances to be sold legally if they could show they were low-risk. It was a bold step forwards on drug policy, one which hinted at an end to decades of wasteful prohibition and knee-jerk policy-making. And now, thanks to a moral panic and another election-year knee-jerk, its in ruins.
The ostensible justification is the harm caused by these products and "reports of severe adverse reactions". But Section 40 of the Act already permits an approval to be withdrawn if there is evidence a substance is not "low risk". Over on Public Address, Russell Brown points out that the government's claims that "[i]t has been impossible to attribute these adverse effects to any particular products" are bullshit and that the National Poisons Centre and users know which products are causing the problem. So why didn't the government use it and ban those harmful products? Simple. Firstly, it would be subject to judicial review, meaning the possibility of a court case and an embarrassing backdown if the government's evidence didn't stack up. And secondly, it would have given the Opposition a chance to grandstand instead - and as Peter Dunne made clear over Twitter, he wasn't going to let them do that:
do you really think the government would have given you a victory on this?
And so thanks to petty politics we're back to the insanity of blanket prohibition (with all the ills that that entails), not to mention the constitutional violence of all-stages urgency. Fuck you very much, Peter Dunne.
[And ditto to Labour. We had a good law, one you voted for, and you're feeding moral panic over it and destroying it basicly to make the government look weak. I guess for them its politics first and policy second]
Meanwhile we've been reminded once again of the hypocrisy inherent in drug policy. Old people's drugs - alcohol and nicotine - are legal, despite the immense harm and social costs they cause. Drugs which cause vastly less harm are not (and while its banning more of the latter, the government selects a tobacco lobbyist as a candidate). Such an approach does not reduce social harm. Nor does it encourage respect for the law or our political system as a whole. Instead, it makes it clear to all that our politicians are whores and hypocrites and that their law is an ass. As for the consequences, the widespread flouting of drug laws and declining voter turnout speak for themselves.