Legal highs blow yet another hole in our drugs policy

As soon as one pharmaceutical compound is identified and placed on a schedule of banned drugs, the makeshift labs create another, barely altered but strictly legal

Share

Professor David Nutt is rocking the boat once again. The former chief drugs adviser to the Government, who was sacked in 2009 after saying that tobacco and alcohol are more harmful than some illicit substances, has now added his name to a letter to The Lancet raising questions about the perceived dangers of so-called legal highs. In fact, many of the recorded fatalities were caused by substances that were already illegal, Professor Nutt and Dr Leslie King claim.

All of this only re-emphasises the confusion at the heart of the “war on drugs”, and the extent to which it is failing. In this case it might be more accurately called the “war on legal drugs”, as these synthetic substances, mimicking the effects of proscribed drugs, lie outside the law. There is a cat-and-mouse game being played here. As soon as one pharmaceutical compound is identified, catalogued and placed on a schedule of banned drugs, the makeshift labs create another, barely altered but strictly legal. Such activities only make a further mockery of a system already long since discredited.

As recent experiences in Colorado demonstrate in the case of marijuana, a sane and gradual process of legalisation does not trigger a collapse in civilised behaviour. It also, as it happens, creates a handy yield in tax revenue – not to mention the undoubted benefits from drug use being treated as a health issue, rather than as a simple criminal offence.

Legalised drugs would be far less adulterated, of consistent quality and subject to the kind of rational risk assessment that we apply to tobacco and alcohol. The result of the prohibition is criminalisation and a net increase in the harm done to individuals and society, both here and often in the poor countries where the drugs are produced. Meanwhile, in a spectacular illustration of the law of unintended consequences, the profits from this illicit trade fund all manner of terrorism and organised crime.

The war on drugs is being lost; the choice is only when we move to a more effective regulatory system. It should be guided by the conclusions of a royal commission. Sad to say, for all the contributions from experts such as Professor Nutt, there is little sign of progress.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable