Pubdate: Mon, 30 May 2016
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2016 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Yasmin Batliwala


The new law (Legal high ban risks creating fresh crisis, 28 May), 
which criminalises the selling of so-called legal highs, but 
crucially does not criminalise the user, is the right thing to do. It 
came out of an independent study into these substances which I set up 
when drugs minister.

A wide range of experts produced a unanimous report and that forms 
the basis of the law. I was clear that so-called legal highs 
presented more of a danger to users than many long-prohibited drugs, 
especially cannabis.

The fact they were legally available led some people to believe they 
had been given the green light by the state, with often tragic 
consequences. The real problem, therefore, is not the status of legal 
highs, but the unscientific and draconian approach taken by the 
government towards cannabis.

It is right that there is not a problem with dangerous legal highs in 
Holland where cannabis is easily available. As minister, I published 
an international comparators study by civil servants into drug 
policy, the first proper assessment of our drug laws for 43 years.

At last a window for drug reform was opened, especially in relation 
to cannabis.

Sadly since the 2015 election, that window has been firmly closed by 
the Tories and that report buried, another example of the unwelcome 
difference between a government with the Lib Dems in it and one where 
the Tories govern alone. Norman Baker Drugs minister 2013-14, Lewes 
The legal high ban will have an effect on new psychoactive substances 
being accessible to the public.

However, it is yet to be seen if the ban will work. Legal highs are 
extremely difficult to control as the prohibition of one brand will 
see the arrival of several new products. There is also the risk that 
the criminalisation of legal highs will push more people towards 
dealers of illicit substances, including class A narcotics.

The "back alley" market is difficult to regulate and it could lead to 
more people being manipulated by such criminal activity.

The law follows the traditional governmental reaction to drugs: 
criminalisation. This ignores the underlying, deeply entrenched 
social issues of drug use. This approach does nothing to tackle the 
actual issue, instead simply populating the prison system.

Yasmin Batliwala WDP, London
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