Monday, June 06, 2005

confused on drugs

Not for the first time, I'm baffled by the government's inconsistent drugs policy. The new Drugs Act 2005 is an incredible mess.

Any time anyone points out that the government are banning harmless things in areas of drug policy, their set response is that to allow anything to do with drugs to be seen in a positive light would 'send mixed messages'.

The messages on drugs could hardly be more mixed than the Drugs Act. It repeals Section 38 of the Police and Criminal Justice Act 2001, which made it an offence to allow your premises to be used for the consumption, production or distribution of illegal drugs. But they're leaving in place Section 8(d) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which obliges people to prevent cannabis or opium from being used on their premises.

The new Act extends treatment availability for addicts, which is unarguably a good thing. This would seem to extend the healthy attitude of a government that's been quietly rolling out heroin prescription for addicts with predictably positive effects.

However, the same hastily shoved-through law moves in against psychedelic mushrooms.

Magic mushrooms have always existed in a legal grey area, primarily because they grow wild all over the place. You can hardly outlaw possession and prosecute those who effectively cultivate them if they're going to be growing on your gran's lawn, the local cricket pitch and the grass verges outside church.

So they banned 'preparing' mushrooms, drying them out or making a brew. Some prosecutors have argued that as soon as mushrooms are picked they're drying out, and so are being 'prepared'.

Generally, though, people picking them have been left alone, and indeed I know someone who had their house raided for drugs and the mushrooms taken away but not mentioned in the prosecution. (I'm guessing that's to do with the legal ambiguity rather than the cops pocketing them).

In the last few years there's been an upsurge in mushroom availability as places have sold grow-kits which, like selling home-brew alcohol gear to under 18s or cannabis seeds, is not illegal in itself. Others have grown the mushrooms then put them in plastic boxes to be sold, where they are not drying out so are not being 'prepared'.

Despite there being no evidence for magic mushrooms doing any harm to people at all, the law is being tightened and now mere possession will be a criminal offence. They are a Class A drug, the same as smack and coke. This, then, means that Leeds Quakers need to watch their backs; the lawn out the front of their Meeting House, which they clearly possess, is a great mushroom ground.

Of course, the larger the landowner the larger the quantity of mushrooms they'll possess. We can be certain that the Ministry of Defence and the Queen grow millions of magic mushrooms every year on their land. Once raw mushrooms are illegal, these are the first people who should expect their front door booted in and get carted off to chokey.

The same Act will introduce stated amounts for 'presumption of intent to supply' for all controlled drugs. If you've given yourself an economy of scale by buying a big stash, or if you're just an intensive user, you're look at a dealer's sentence. The government is holding back on saying what the amounts will be, and so that section of the Act won't become law until 2006. But, again, there can be little doubt that the Queen and other large landowners will cross that threshold by orders of magnitude.

So they're wrestling with a precise wording to get landowners off the hook, but still get pickers without incriminating those who accidentally mow them.

It is not only astonishing that they would want to classify natural plants with no record of harm alongside some of the most addictive substances known to humanity; it's equally astonishing that the whole thing was rushed through in the last days before parliament was dissolved for the general election.

It was scarcely debated, it has been harshly criticised by the Joint Parliamentary Human Rights Committee; thousands of people criminalised for no good reason, no questions asked.

Alan Duncan, a scary far-right bastard and one of the outside-chances for Tory leader, argued for the repeal of drug laws on libertarian grounds in his book Saturn's Children: How the State Devours Liberty and Prosperity. At least, he did in the hardback edition.

After he got a front bench position in the Tories and had to join calls for harsher drug laws there was an, ahem, 'updated' paperback edition of his book that mysteriously omitted the drugs bit.

When the new Drugs Bill came up, he voted for his party line.

Mushrooms grow naturally on the planet yet they're against the law, marijuana grows naturally on the planet, it's against the law. Doesn't the idea of making nature against the law seem a bit... unnatural?

Bill Hicks

No comments: