Psychoactive Substances Bill

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Psychoactive Substances Bill must be re-worded, warns ACMD

The Psychoactive Substances Bill should be re-worded to ensure the legislation is effective, enforceable and does not result in ‘serious unintended consequences’, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has said. The controversial bill (DDN, June, page 4) is currently making its way through Parliament.

The council has written to home secretary Theresa May to say that while it is ‘supportive’ of moves to prevent harm from new psychoactive substances (NPS) the bill should be re-worded to include the word ‘novel’, which should be tightly defined. The ACMD states that it would support a blanket ban on NPS but cautions against a similar ban ‘on all psychoactive substances’, writes chair Professor Les Iversen, adding that it would be ‘almost impossible’ to list all the desirable exemptions under the bill as it stands. ‘As drafted, the bill may now include substances that are benign or even helpful to people,’ he says, stressing that the ‘psychoactivity’ of a substance cannot be unequivocally proven.

The current bill also ‘uncouples the concept of harm’ from the control of supply, importation and production, despite the expert panel that carried out the original new psychoactive substances review (DDN, December 2014, page 5) recommending a ‘safety clause’ to exclude substances of little or no harm. The bill could ‘seriously inhibit’ medical and scientific research, warns Iversen, and has the potential to ‘both criminalise and apply disproportionate penalties to many otherwise law abiding’ people. Closing ‘headshops’ could also simply displace the market, he says, while those in charge of clubs, festivals, pubs or even prisons could be liable to prosecution.

The ACMD says it is willing to work with the government to draw up lists of substances to be included and excluded and make the sure the bill is enforceable, proportionate and ‘framed using evidence’, but wants to see ‘sufficient resources’ allocated for a ‘thorough, independent’ evaluation of its impacts. It also wants to see ‘social supply’ excluded from the document to make sure that the legislation targets commercial suppliers rather than users. The Home Office has said it will respond to the letter before the bill is next debated in the House of Lords later this month.

Letter at www.gov.uk