Problems identified with enforcing prohibition of legal highs

There was an excellent article on Victoria Derbyshire show yesterday about the dramas the legal highs legislation is going through now the Police are having to consider its enforcement.  The problems centre on the practical difficulties for police of proving that a substance is ‘psychoactive’, that is, that it actually gives people a high.  Whilst this might lead to a surreal career opportunity for someone, the very process of defining what a legal high is shines a wonderful light on the futility of prohibition, with legal experts straining to find a form of words which makes mind altering substances illegal whilst still allowing for the use of substances as diverse as Super Tennants and Incense used by the Church of England!

The obvious answer is of course to end prohibition, gradually, and start proper regulation and control.  Cannabis is an excellent first step, and it would be wise to make a success of that before moving on to other drugs, but the legal highs legislation is a wonderful opportunity to make the wider point whilst the country is listening.  The government aim is to avoid the risks to users health and well being from dangerous legal highs, which is a noble aim.  The entire thrust of the legislation however is now concentrated on giving police the powers to define legal highs in order to the shut down the shops selling them.  This only makes sense in a very narrow ‘technical’ manner.  If successful, the shops might be closed down, or maybe the sellers will either tweak their products to side-step the definition or simply move into the darker parts of the internet, which will only increase the risks to the end users. In the meantime the police have wasted money and man-power, the exchequer has raised not a single penny in taxation, and if anyone still believes that prohibition will stop the end users demand for these legal highs then they’re probably indulging in some mind altering substances of their own.  

I’m delighted the Liberal Democrats have been vocal in bringing some rationality to the debate in parliament, and hope those standing as police and crime commissioners will speak out too.  It is wonderful that we are leading the anti-prohibition movement now, and I’m sure that public opinion will be moved closer if the absurdity of the current approach to extending prohibition is made clear.

* Tobie Abel is a software designer and PPC for Richmond Yorks. He joined the party in 2013

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Legal highs are neither legal or get people high, they get them insensible – The shops claim they are sold as incense or experimental chemical but not for human consumption – something they know to be a lie.

    Its not really very difficult to distinguish between church incense and the stuff sold in head shops – if you take a look on youtube or walk near someone taking some of the stuff.

    Does the author use these substance himself? Does he really think that anyone who disagrees with him is taking “mind altering substances”.

    It is really a puerile argument that prohibition doesn’t ‘work; or doesn’t stop stupid people doing stupid things.

    You can’t regulate and control these substances to remove harm anymore than deregulation of guns in the USA reduces gun crime.

  • At last common sense has prevailed. I use a safe legal high called kratom. It is a wonderful herb which kills pain without the nasty side effects you can get with pharmaceutical pills. I have had problems with alcohol abuse in the past; being made homeless, legal trouble, but kratom keeps me away from the sauce. I only drink every 2-3 weeks now. If kratom had been banned, I would have had to have gone to a dealer who could’ve cut it with dangerous substances or drink again. Prohibition causes more crime and more harm to users.

  • It seems to me unlikely the author wishes to have people driving buses, trains or planes while under the influence of psychoactive drugs, or performing medical or dental operations, operating heavy machinery, teaching in schools, being air traffic controllers, He might even want these things prohibited.

    The notable thing about the Norman Lamb policy on cannabis was that it acknowledged the harm cannabis does. If you want to treat drugs as a health problem then that involves more than saying its your choice, take whatever you like, whatever the consequences to yourself and other people. We don’t take that approach to other health or mental health problems, why should use of harmful psychoactive drugs be different ?

  • @Caracatus, the argument that because you don’t want someone using heavy machinery while on a drug as a reason to ban it is a fatuous one. The regulation and control of alcohol clearly demonstrates that. Or are you in favour of banning that?

    There are clearly health problems with drugs as there are with many things and concentrating on reducing harm rather than criminalisation of users has to be the way forward.

    Why not allow companies to produce legal highs which are shown to be safe in laboratory controlled trials, and can then be approved and taxed? Or are we actually against people enjoying themselves, rather than the harmful side effects?

  • @ Tim P Would you be happy travelling on a train with a driver who uses legal highs, or an airline with a pilot doing the same ? It also applies to drivers on the motorway.

    I certainly wouldn’t and regard it as an infringement of my right to freedom and safety.

    Freedom is not the same as self-indulgence.

  • Rightsaidfredfan 2nd Apr '16 - 5:38pm

    I don’t think the lib dem leadership are sincere over their desire to legalise cannabis. The lib dems organised a campaign urging labour to get tough and ban the sale of cannabis seeds. Drug policy is a political football and the lib dems are the same as the other players.

  • Rightsaidfredfan 3rd Apr '16 - 10:51am

    Will we ever see sane drug policies in any of our life times? It’s truely depressing.

  • Rightsaidfredfan 3rd Apr '16 - 2:39pm

    A lot of politicans built their careers on being tough on drugs a locking up addicts. It’s going to be difficult for them to admit they were wrong and change the law.

    One day, when the law is changed and it’s become apparent that those who supported prohibition did enormous harm to country out of pure self interest when they knew full well the harm they were doing, should we have a campaign to get the law changed retrospectively in order to incarcerate every politician who voted for prohibition?

  • @Caractus – of course prohibition doesn’t work! 30 years of Nixons war on drugs should be enough to convince you of that, drugs are easily available, affordable and the cartels running their supply are massive organisations which undermine entire communities they operate from around the globe. I’d go as far as to say it is immoral to ignore the negative effects prohibition has after so many years of evidence mounting

  • Rightsaidfredfan 3rd Apr '16 - 5:32pm


    The politicans that have voted for prohibition in the past know this too. They knew the harm their rules were doing but it was a game to them and they didn’t care.

    We need to change the law retrospectively and make having voted for prohibition in the past a serious crime with a mandatory jail sentence. Let’s give them a taste of their own medicine?

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • George Thomas
    "I wonder how many voters in any of the recent by-elections have quoted attacks on devolution and breaking down of relationship between different nations within...
  • John Roffey
    Since this article is about plain speaking - I came across this 'most liked' post in the comments section of an article by Nigel Farage in the Telegraph: "I ...
  • Hireton
    Mandate The Scottish parties which support a referendum gained seats at the 2021 Scottish General Election and the UK parties which oppose it lost seats. Th...
  • John Roffey
    I thought this short video from the Dalai Lama provided much needed hope on Climate Change:
  • Brad Barrows
    @ John Barrett Yes 60% of Scottish exports go to England under the current arrangement of Scotland in the UK but not in the EU. Most Irish exports used to be w...