9 May 2014
Among the many extraordinary Parliamentary events this week was the surge of moral hysteria and sanctimony that accompanied the passage of two very simple amendments to the Psychoactive Substances Act.
To recap: I recommended to the Cabinet just over two weeks ago that the interim approvals for some 41 substances be withdrawn because of questions being raised about the level of risk associated with them, and I further recommended to the Prime Minister last weekend that we take the opportunity to make it clear in the legislation that we would not be requiring animal testing as part of the new regulatory regime for the approval of psychoactive substances.
These two simple decisions – which in reality extend the scope of, rather than diminish – the provisions of the Psychoactive Substances Act have been widely portrayed as a ban by any other name on these substances. Politicians, media, and local authority leaders have clambered over each other to be loudest in what can only be described as the shout of wilful ignorance. And, as the promoter of both the substantive legislation and this week’s amendments, I have been pilloried for my consistent comments, to which I hold, that bans on these substances do not work, and that a better regulatory framework is what is needed. And that is exactly what I have delivered – not once, but twice now.
By now, the remaining psychoactive substances should be off the shelves, pending submission by their manufacturers to the regulatory authority in due course for approval as low-risk. But will the moral panic die? Probably not. The black market and stockpiled products mean a number of the substances will still be around for a while, and then there is always the prospect of at least some of the current products returning to the market, after they have been through the regulatory process. And that is not to mention the strong likelihood that other psychoactive synthetic compounds, not yet known, will be developed, and will pose the same regulatory challenges that led to the development of the Psychoactive Substances Act.
All of which raises the need for calm heads, not grandstanding local and national politicians seeking to make short term capital, as we work our way through the issues. It may be beyond the ability of some of them to comprehend, but this is a far bigger issue than just synthetic cannabis, and my focus has always been on a establishing a viable, future proofed regulatory regime, as I have done. Yes, in retrospect the original legislation last year probably should not have included interim product approvals, and all known products should have been required to be submitted for testing at that time. In the less frenzied atmosphere then, without a pending general election, that would have been a logical outcome of the move to a regulated market, and no-one would have seriously called it a ban. But that was then, and this is now. So, if a week in politics is a long time, a year is an absolute eternity!