Psychoactive Substances Bill could become the worst piece of law in Britain

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By Katie King on

The notoriously awful Dangerous Dogs Act may soon have a rival


It’s not often parliamentary debates get people talking, but deliberations on the law of legal highs are so controversial that Twitter users couldn’t help but get stuck in.

Yesterday, MPs debated the Psychoactive Substances Bill — a much-awaited legislative initiative aimed at banning the use of legal highs.

There were some surprising revelations during the debate — MP Crispin Blunt admitted to using poppers.

But it’s the technical wording of the law that has sparked the biggest Twitterati backlash.

So what’s all the fuss about?

Speaking to BuzzFeed last year, legal commentator David Allen Green — whose views on the UK’s ban-culture are well documented — explained the complexities of banning stuff:

Prohibitions need to be precise: You need to know whether you are inside or outside the scope of the prohibition so you can regulate your conduct.

And that’s the very problem with this bill: it’s incredibly vague.

According to the bill, a psychoactive substance is one that has a “psychoactive effect” — an effect on a person’s “mental functioning or emotional state”.

It’s pretty impossible to pin down what this actually means, which Twitter users were quick to point out.

There are widespread fears that the bill, if enacted, will prompt a repeat of the Dangerous Dogs Act (DDA) controversy of 1991.

This piece of legislation was rushed through parliament in response to a raft of attacks on people by aggressive dogs.

The DDA was not subjected to the proper level of scrutiny that usually comes with law reform, and — just like the Psychoactive Substances Bill — failed to clearly define what it was banning. It is widely considered to be “one of the most misconceived and ineffective pieces of legislation ever to pass into British law”.

There are also criticisms that the bill could hinder research into child psychology, and will implicitly create a new wave of illegal, underground drug production and supply.

Definitely one to look out for.