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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Women are working in some of the lowest-paid sectors such as cleaning, catering and caring  

Women's wages have gone backwards. Labour would give women the pay they deserve

Gloria de Piero
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?