Politicians and their views on drugs are a nearly endless source of entertainment and facepalm inducing frustration.
The newest chapter in this saga: a curious piece of legislation in the UK called the Psychoactive Substances bill. The internet is calling it the most clumsily written British law.
New drugs appear all the time. Stuff that's called 'legal highs' or research chemicals. As noted in our article on research chemicals, one of the difficulties law enforcement faces with new drugs is that a new substance is not illegal until it has been classified as a drug, which takes time and effort.
The Psychoactive Substances bill was designed to pre-empt that entire process and to simply make it illegal to produce, possess or sell psychoactive substances. Alcohol and nicotine are exempt as well as known controlled substances that are handled by more specific laws.
The most absurd law in UK history?
Basically, the Psychoactive Substances bill is throwing a very wide net to catch any and all as of yet unclassified psychoactive substances. While we understand the intent here - to protect the public from harmful research chemicals - the execution is nothing short of completely absurd.
So why is it so stupid? The phrasing of the law is terribly ambiguous. A substance is considered psychoactive if:
"It stimulates or depresses the person’s central nervous system, it affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state."
Substances 'ordinarily consumed as food' are also exempt, meaning caffeine and chocolate are in the clear. However, this still leaves a laundry list of completely harmless substances. For example, incense used in church.
It also doesn't deal with the fact that, scientifically, it's impossible to tell if a substance has a psychoactive property until you consume it. Ironically, consuming dangerous new drugs is exactly what this law is supposed to prevent.
Legal commentator David Allen Green said: "Prohibitions need to be precise: You need to know whether you are inside or outside the scope of the prohibition so you can regulate your conduct."
Since it's not properly defined, it's unclear what this law is supposed to protect people from. Not to mention the fact that this could seriously hinder legitimate research on potentially beneficial substances.
An overly restrictive ban can also lead to a new wave of underground drug trafficking, which is far more dangerous for the legal highs consumer than buying at a legitimate smartshop/headshop.
Surely, there must be better ways to protect the public health than to blindly ban everything? The Psychoactive Substances bill is unfortunately still set to go into effect in the UK in April.