Legal highs

The front page of yesterday’s Kentish Gazette is a story about a new shop that’s just opened in Canterbury. The shop’s called UK Skunkworks, and apparently sells legal recreational drugs and related drug paraphernalia. The story made the front page because recently, tragically, two local young men died after taking methoxetamine; a drug that was at the time legal but has now been banned under new government powers. The tone of the article is generally negative, and features our dear MP Mr Julian Brazier explaining his objection to the shop’s existence.

I’m troubled by this for several reasons.

Firstly, although the drug has been implicated in several deaths, as of the 23rd of March 2012 no deaths have positively been linked to methoxetamine use. The government and the media consistently misrepresent drug harms, as we saw in 2009/2010 with mephedrone and the late 90s with Ecstasy and the death of Leah Betts. That being said, methoxetamine has a whole heap of nasty effects and people have been hospitalised as a direct result of the drug.

Secondly, when it comes to drug use I believe that people should be able to make their own decisions. Why should any action be illegal if it doesn’t cause anyone else any harm? I’m not saying that we should just wash our hands of those who, through desire or ignorance, are going to hurt themselves; I’m saying that if a person has made an informed decision about what they want then I would rather support than condemn them.

Condemning and punishing a person for drug use doesn’t do any good. Recreational drugs such as ketamine and cannabis are still produced and distributed in the UK, despite the fact that they’re illegal. If they were legal they could be subjected to regulations and quality control, increasing safety. Making something illegal doesn’t mean people will stop doing it, it just means that they’ll be less safe when they do. Not to mention, of course, the fact that money raised by the drug trade is a motivator for violent crime and encourages organised crime. Just like in America during the prohibition.

… which leads me to my next point – something that always winds me up. Alcohol and tobacco, two of the most harmful drugs, are not only legal (though subject to age restrictions) but people are legally encouraged to try them (through adverts/common use on television and in film). In my opinion, the restrictions on alcohol and tobacco should the same as the restrictions on any other drug. This would mean that either all drugs would be legal (with restrictions) or all drugs (including alcohol and tobacco) would be illegal, to varying degrees. Personally, I’d prefer either of those scenarios to our current situation.

Neither scenario is perfect, of course. I can imagine that problems would occur if big companies were allowed to push other drugs the way they push alcohol and tobacco.

Look, I’m not a drug taking person. I drink alcohol every so often, and I once took a few puffs of a mate’s cigarette. I just can’t understand why a personal decision that doesn’t harm anyone else should be illegal. The opinion of the moral majority shouldn’t be law. I guess if it was up to me, I’d legalise it all but place heavier restrictions on advertising. I’d like to see people having to earn a license to buy drugs, the same way people have to earn a license to drive a car, by taking lessons on drug safety and proving they know how to access help if they need it.

Maybe if this were the case, if drugs were subject to quality controls and if people who chose to use them had the knowledge to use them responsibly, fewer young people would die drug related deaths. Moreover, I don’t think it’s fair to use stories about people who’ve died after taking a drug to push for harsher drug laws. It doesn’t seem like it’s what they would have wanted.

Whatever, I don’t have all the answers. These have just been some ramblings that were too long and complicated for twitter, and too boring for facebook. Leave a comment to tell me whether you agree with me or not and why. I look forward to hearing your feedback 🙂

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