Lucy Mannion 

Naked Politics Blogger 

The Psychoactive Substances Act (PSA) was due to come into force on the 6th of April, however only a few itty bitty bits actually did, with no clear guidance from the Home Office about when the rest will follow.  The PSA makes it an offenceto produce or supply any psychoactive substance, if it’s likely that the substance will be used for its mind bending properties, so folks are stocking up on their Poke and Black Mamba now!

The notion behind the act is to tackle the scourge of legal highs, though the government stands accused of using a gigantic sledgehammer to crack a very small nut.  Action did need to be taken in this area, as we were stuck in the situation whereby legal highs had to be banned individually.  This was time consuming and ineffective, as altering one chemical element in a substance meant that it was seen as a brand spanking new substance and had to be prohibited as such, and so it could go on ad infinitum.

So came the PSA, but it’s been a bit of a dog’s dinner right from its philosophical conception, after being mauled by many as a shoddily drafted piece of legislation.  Some posit that it is essentially trying to blanket ban anything psychoactive, and then having to exempt things you don’t want to be included is sheer madness.  Designing legislation in this manner certainly leaves with me a bad taste in my mouth and concerns about precedents being set for more vague laws in the future.

It comes then as no surprise that its official rollout has been curtailed while some Westminster types presumably try desperately to hammer out the kinks.  The act faces two key glitches, namely what do you define as psychoactive and what do you exempt?  A vast quantity of the debacle surrounding the act has centred on what psychoactive actually means as, taken very basically, it’s simply anything that alters the mind.

This of course encapsulates numerous harmful but legal substances that will be specifically exempt from the PSA, your usual suspects of alcohol, caffeine nicotine and medical products.  Common sense also dictated that other hallucinatory but benign substances will not become illicit, under the get out card of ‘anything which is ordinarily consumed as food’, including nutmeg, a specific type of sea bream, cheese (generally melted), mulberries, chillies and rye bread.  Oh and then there are your customary, actually psychoactive ‘proper’ drugs which are also excused because they are already illegal….See I told you this act was a headache!

So, the list of exemptions is already growing faster speculation about who ‘Becky with the good hair ‘is and then Crispin Blunt MP says that banning poppers is foolish and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) agree with him.  Crispin doesn’t want them controlled because he’s a party animal and the ACMD don’t because they don’t think poppers have a direct effect on the brain, and so don’t fall within the scope of the current definition of a psychoactive substance.

Therefore, Mrs May has now decided poppers will continue to be available in all the banging clubs in your area.  Though many who have taken poppers will testify they most definitely mess with your head, so it really does seem the government has got itself in to a pickle, as they are not even really sure exactly what to ban.

This seems to have been the straw that made the camel trip out. The whole thing is up in the air now, as the bods up in the House of Commons have suddenly realised the PSA is a pig’s ear and that police feel it is unenforceable in its current form.  In fact, where a similar law has been enacted in Northern Ireland it has led to very few convictions due to difficulties in proving if a substance is psychoactive.


How this all comes as a shock to anyone I don’t know, as from the get go the act has looked like it was put together by someone with the parliamentary experience of a dim six year old.  The Home Office is now saying the delay in the full enactment will occur while they perform a programme of testing to validate the psycho-activity of substances, but I sense they are sinking in a dank swamp that they will find it tricky to climb out of.

In my eyes, the PSA is yet another illustration of how politics and science often fail to merge constructively and an extension of the tendency to handle drug policy clumsily.  Attempting to enforce such a sweeping law that relies on creating complete unambiguity in such a complex area means that it was always doomed to fail.

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Last Update: April 28, 2018