There’s a mechanism for implementing some legislation, for example, for adding extra substances to the schedules of the Misuse of Drugs Act that define what severity of punishment may be meted out by the government and its agents for their possession or trade, called an “Order in Council”. It needs no consultation, in effect, other than, in the case of the MDA, only to have consulted its pet, semi-independent at best, Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
The Council concerned is the Privy Council: sort of, technically, the highest body in the government, the link between the monarch and her government. Even the Prime Minister’s Cabinet is technically a sub-committee of the Privy Council. The “chair” of the Privy Council is the Lord President of Council, who happens, at the moment, to be Nick Clegg.
They are known in part for their arcane mechanisms, helping to shroud much of what government does in obfuscation and mystery. One example is that meetings (of, I believe, a quorum of three, out of hundreds of members, government ministers and former ministers, opposition senior figures, for life) take place standing up. It’s always said this is to keep discussion to a minimum, but a plausible alternative explanation I suppose given the quasi-religious nature of such centers of power, might be to represent that they are in the presence of the monarch or some such. For all I know, as with other aspects of the mumbo-jumbo of state they may well conduct their business in Norman French for all I know.
They are able to do this as each piece of primary legislation usually contains some administrative, secondary mechanism to amend itself in certain ways, that limit consultation and debate, due process in other words, perhaps effectively “outsourcing” the discussion to a quasi-independent body such as the statutorily required Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The effect is that a mere administrative process involving, in the final decision, a tiny number of people utterly reliant on the chain of advice with no room for debate can turn something from a non-crime to one that could land a trader in some substances a life sentence in a month’s time, effectively, as near as they can make it, in secret. In a “representative democracy”.
Let that sink in for a second: three people, inexperts, consulting only those paid to tell them what government wants to hear, can decide, effectively in secret, with little notice and no debate, can turn an activity currently legal into something for which the maximum term of imprisonment is life with 28 calendar days notice.
That is happening right now. On 10th December an Order in Council was approved that adds certain psychoactive substances to various schedules of the travesty of justice and common sense that is the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The council had in its programme to investigate the use and abuse of what are properly called “Novel Pharmaceutical Substances” but more commonly referred to as “Legal Highs”, some of which would previously have been called “Research Chemicals”. They investigated one particular class of NPS called tryptamines (pdf), and, because they are often regarded as potential substitutes for each other, several compounds that are similar to LSD.
Now, if you believe anything the Schedules to the Misuse of Drugs Act might indicate, LSD is one of the most harmful substances ever discovered and not only needs to be in the category for which citizens are punished the harshest, with up to life imprisonment for trafficking offenses, but which have no legitimate therapeutic uses and so even research into their potential benefits is either banned or extremely difficult.
This of course is complete nonsense. LSD has a reputation because of a classic moral panic that happened in the USA in the late sixties and early seventies, and related not just to the hippy movement but also to the panic that young Americans, sent halfway around the world to shoot Vietnamese and be shot by them, and to inflict terrible murder and suffer awful casualties themselves, were using it to try and forget their unenviable situation. A panic, moreover, whipped up by the government of the oh so moral Richard “Trickie Dickie” Nixon!
At the time, however, it had also seen investigation for psychiatric treatment, including as a depression treatment, in psychological interventions to increase well being and to explore traumatic experiences, as a nootropic – an aid to concentration, focus, study and so on, and had been tested by the CIA for all sorts of psy-ops purposes.
But for all this scaremongering about the dangers of LSD, the much cited, peer reviewed, Lancet published research on comparing the relative harms of different illicit and legal psychoactive substances by David Nutt, Leslie King and Lawrence Philips concluded that when all the possible harms of different substances are taken into account, alcohol is the most harmful substance commonly used, with a score of 72/100, whilst LSD is the 18th of twenty studied, with a score of less than ten per cent that of alcohol at 7/100.
Many continue to believe in the many suggested benefits of LSD, and that, especially as a daily dose, usually well below the level at which you may feel “high”, so called microdosing, has enormous physical, mental (including nootropic), psychological and spiritual benefits. LSD’s original discoverer, Albert Hofman, when in the 90s, and his 90s, and still microdosing himself every day, apparently, saw the burgeoning of ADHD diagnoses in children and expressed dismay that they were being fed amphetamine type treatments like Ritalin, saying that they would be much better on microdoses of his LSD. Sure, at higher doses it gives a great “high”, very similar to LSD itself, one that promotes meditation and introspection, self-analysis and a deep sense of connectedness with others and the outside world, and it’s just, often, just damned fun too.
With LSD illegal, investigation of these purported beneficial qualities can make use of some very similar substitutes, such as the LSZ, AL-LAD, Eth-LAD and PRO-LAD compounds included in the new Order. Not only have these proven not to be dangerous compared with far more common legal substances, but there is significant evidence that they may have these many potential therapeutic uses. So the ACMD have reviewed any available literature (it should be noted that they have not done any primary research themselves on them). Included on that short list is their own report from just fifteen years ago that did examine the potential harms of these four chemicals and concluded, explicitly, that there was no reason to control them.
So what could have happened in those fifteen years for them to make a complete volte face and now make them class A? Have hundreds of teenage rave goers been killed by the stuff? Has it even figured as a significant market, as indicated by their own referrals database? Not at all. Its deadliness comes from being a chemical relation of an already banned substance, LSD. And in the mere possibility that if they ban the simple tryptamines they were actually investigating, these substances might become popular as alternatives.
One has to ask, with a harm level so low compared with the legal alcohol, and perhaps even among the tryptamines they were investigating, what would be the problem with a relatively less harmful substance becoming a substitute? Except, perhaps, if it becomes too popular, so good is it that it would likely put much of the alcohol pushing industry out of business.
But here’s what gets me most: they had looked at these substances previously and had concluded then that, though they were very similar to LSD, they did not need to be controlled. You would have thought that a sensible, rigorous scientific method would suggest in such a case that you should also, as a result, examine the evidence for banning LSD as well. If its near analogs are not worthy of controlling, why is it itself still on the list? But no, the default is to restrict people, to criminalize them, rather than to look at whether existing sanctions are proportionate. It’s as if nobody wants to question the system at all, or to undermine previous classifications highlighted by inconsistencies.
Nobody asked people who use these substances, or people who have studied and advocate them for medically supervised therapeutic use, or even for less “scientific” uses such as meditation and spiritual practice. But there we go, the Advisory Council makes a volte face on an earlier decision, with no apparent justification whatsoever in terms of harm or prevalence, making anyone who continues to practice the microdosing they swear by as a health giving daily pep-up, or those who take psycho-active doses to enhance meditation, alter perception and so on, a criminal from January 6th 2015, and those who supply them potentially liable to a life sentence.
Nick Clegg is Lord President of Council. I wonder if he jumped straight from overseeing this piece of bansturbatory nonsense pass into law to be interviewed for Russell Brand’s “End the War on Drugs” documentary where he offered platitudes about changing the way we deal with drugs. The very least you could do, Nick, is to have a moratorium on creating further criminals until sorting out how our views need to change. Lynne Featherstone is I think the Minister responsible for this change, having taken over from Norman Baker when he resigned days after having finally won what had been described as a battle within the Home Office to get a report on how our prohibitionist drugs policies and heavy punishments available did not affect the prevalence of use and abuse. How does not consulting people fit with your liberal values?