During the Queen’s speech last Wednesday, it was announced that the Conservative Government will draft a Psychoactive Substances Bill that will introduce an absolute ban on new psychoactive substances (NPS), which are often referred to as ‘legal highs’.
I have had a long concern about the effects that drugs have on the health and wellbeing of young people. Before I became an MP, I prosecuted and defended in drugs cases and dealt with the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and its limitations first hand.
Under the Misuse of Drugs Act, illegal substances are defined by their chemical makeup. This means that the compound of a banned substance can be altered so that they become ‘legal’ again. Tackling NPS turns into an extremely challenging game of catch-up for the Government, because new and untested substances are constantly being created.
Changing the law to allow temporary banning orders to be applied to any substance deemed harmful is one of the measures introduced by the Conservative Government to try and tackle this issue. Temporary banning orders, also known as a Temporary Class Drug Order (TCDO), allow for a 12 month crackdown period on the drug without having to wait for new legislation to be passed. During this period, the Independent Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs advises the Government as to whether the new substance should be made permanently illegal and re-classified as a Class C, B, or A drug.
Back in 2011, a substance called ‘Mexxy’ (methoxetamine) caused severe problems in my constituency and I worked closely with police to persuade the Home Office to implement a ban. In the short space of 28 days, a temporary ban had been issued and the substance is now a controlled Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
I don’t believe that psychoactive substances can be tackled by simply banning new and dangerous substances however. What this country needs is a change of approach and a change of culture.
I would like to see phrases such as ‘legal highs’ consigned to the dustbin. We should be talking about ‘chemical highs’ and reminding people that often, these drugs are mixed with already illegal substances, so they are not legal. Above all, we must emphasise that “legal” certainly does not mean “safe”. Because chemical highs are ever-changing, users are putting themselves at risk by stepping into the unknown. The days when people can predict the impact of taking these substances are over.
We’ve seen dreadful cases here in Swindon which demonstrate how dangerous psychoactive substances can be. Many local residents will remember the tragic death of 23 year old Christopher Scott who lived in my constituency and died after taking a substance called ‘AMT’ (alphamethyltriptamine). After that tragedy I fought alongside Christopher Scott’s family who wanted the substance outlawed. AMT was classified as a Class A drug in January earlier this year alongside the likes of heroin and cocaine, which shows just how dangerous so called ‘legal highs’ can be.
When is comes to tackling these dangerous substances, we are not just talking about issues of criminality but also issues of public health and safety. The Conservative Government has a moral duty to tackle the rising number of deaths as a result of chemical highs, and I whole-heartedly back a blanket ban. First and foremost, my priority as MP for South Swindon is to keep my constituents safe and I will work to ensure that any such ban is rigorously enforced.
(This article was originally posted in the Swindon Advertiser on Wednesday 3rd June 2015)