So, the government’s decided that it’s going hush the outcry over legal highs by banning them. I’m not going to suggest that they’re safe, nor am I going to have any sympathy for the retailers flogging it. But what I am going to suggest is that banning was never the right answer, because we’re not asking the right question.
The right question isn’t “should” people do it, nor is the question about how hazardous it is compared to alcohol and other things. The question isn’t any of these things
Over the last while, pick any night at random, and there’s a good chance you could find John Campbell going on about the legal products, showing footage of people lining up to buy them, and telling excited stories about the people using them, talking of addiction, health problems, financial troubles, and other things all caused by so called “synthetic cannabis.” It all seemed very sensationalist.
There is a level of truth to his reporting, but it’s impossible for me to tell, because the entire charade reeked of the same bollocks that accompanies every moral panic.
The one thing I did notice, watching the footage they were showing, it had a strong look that it was people just moralising about other people, in particular, wealthier people looking down on the riffraff they don’t want in their communities. Now, that’s just how it looked to me on the telly, and I’m usually loathe to make such a cheap accusation. But cheap, though it is, methinks there’s more to the ban (and the animal-testing-without-testing-on-animals catch 22 that comes with it) than simply concern for society’s safety. Like most things surrounding people telling other people not to do something, there are bound to be plenty of double standards.
We’re worried that people are using these drugs, and I do agree that people should not be able to access it, but like any drug, we shouldn’t be concerned that people are doing it; we should be asking the question about why people want to do it.
When it comes to addiction, the solution is rarely to just take away the addictive thing. There are a myriad different components to addiction on this sort of scale, the addictive nature and withdrawal effects of the chemical in question being a not insignificant part of it. But there are other contributing factors.
Addiction is complex, and it’s seen (under the more correct term dependence) as a disease. Disease isn’t cured by simply commanding the sick to be well. Likewise, I see use of “synthetic” cannabis as symptomatic of a larger problem, one that isn’t simply going to go away by banning the vice. Psychoactive drugs often offer an escape, be it from reality, or just your emotions. I want to know what the people getting hooked on it are escaping.
That all being said, it’s still entirely possible to investigate and mitigate these broader concerns while it is illegal. So, the question turns back to should it be illegal?
The problem with these “legal highs,” is that, thanks to the reality of chemistry, it’s not easy to place a blanket ban on certain molecules without having repercussions. The same chemical might do different things in different contexts. From a legal perspective relevant to this issue, this largely presents itself with manufacturers using slightly different chemicals, and branding them as “herbal,” or “synthetic.” So long as our laws are carefully considered and well reasoned, this largely doesn’t become a problem, but laws like these are often made as knee-jerk reactions to public opinion. And we’re left to do it again when the next slightly different chemical comes on the market.
The real problem with “synthetic cannabis” (I keep putting it in “quotes” because it is neither really synthetic, nor cannabis), isn’t that it’s not simple herbal product, it’s that it’s not what it says on the label. Tests of popular brands in Germany found that the products didn’t contain the ingredients specified on the packaging. Most of them contain cannabinoids, in wildly differing doses.
But, I hear you say, if you don’t think banning them is the answer, aren’t you in favour of them? Well, hypothetical reader who sets up paragraphs nicely, no. Regulation is what I’m calling for. People are going to use narcotics, so we should do our best to make sure they’re safe. Also, keeping things legal, regulation enables us to keep the entire industry transparent, and helps those of us being hurt by it to be identified and receive help.
We shouldn’t have these products, but the solution to the problems they bring isn’t as simple as banning them. Once again, the solution is complex, and we should be prepared for difficult work, not knee-jerk legislation.