The funding decision which reveals how useless the legal highs bill is
As I've reported before, the psychoactive substances bill will either criminalise everyone or no-one. The terms of the bill are so broad that all sorts of people, from online incense sellers to suppliers of diving equipment, would technically be in breach of it. So either they'll be left alone and we'll all have to live with a constitutionally intolerable but practically irrelevant bit of legislation or we're going to adopt a drug policy which makes Saudi Arabia look like a night out in Vauxhall.
Well unsurprisingly (but overall probably for the best) it looks like it'll be the former. A question to the Home Office from Labour MP Paul Flynn has seen it suggest there won't be new money to enforce the bill. Home Office minister Mike Penning replied with all the usual fluff, but dig into it and it's clear there's no cash coming.
"We have worked closely with a range of partners, including the National Police Chiefs’ Council, in the course of the drafting of the psychoactive substances bill and will continue to do so to ensure that the bill is effectively implemented. This will include the police, supported by the Home Office, producing guidance and setting up workshops for their officers on the enforcement of the legislation.
"As set out in the impact assessment to the psychoactive substances bill, the police already employ some resources in tackling new drugs and, while there may be some additional costs attached to the enforcement of the new legislation in the short term, we do not anticipate any long term increase."
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The bill will admittedly have one big effect: it will close head shops. This really was the purpose of it. The shops made a mockery of the war on drugs and the ability of legislation to keep up with chemistry. But closing the shops will do little to reduce legal high use, except to drive it underground, away from where authorities can warn young people of the danger of some of these substances.
If you realistically wanted to secure convictions of production or supply of psychoactive substances, you'd need to get scientific advice up to the level where it could work in court. That's proved impossible overseas and is not likely to prove any easier here. An attempt to change that would have required some concerted work with police, the Crown Prosecution Service and scientists to establish clear tests applicable in a court of law for the causal relationship between the substance and the effect. The fact there's no new funds suggests it isn't forthcoming.
It also means there's no plan for a police focus on tackling psychoactive substance dealing by street drug dealers, who are expected to take up the market once head shops are closed. The same goes for online drug marketplaces.
Of course, no-one was seriously expecting the Home Office to target party balloon salesmen and flower merchants, all of whom will technically be in breach of the law. But it was possible that they would take a broad approach to clamping down on so-called legal high use. That would involve not just closing the shops but also targeting the underground supply lines we know will grow as a response.
The fact they haven't earmarked any new funds for it suggests this will be another superficial drug policy which does nothing to tackle that which it claims to target. But we will end up with a seriously weird bit of law outlawing all substances which make you feel anything. So there's that.