As the government debates today whether or not to include poppers in the proposed Psychoactive Substances Bill, Mike Freer MP, Conservative MP for Finchley & Golders Green, explains why he believes a ban on the substance isn’t the way forward.
The new Psychoactive Substances Bill is well intentioned, but in my view is having unintended consequences – the banning of poppers.
The ban is due to come into force in April 2016. Having sat on parliamentary committees to ban legal highs, and then sat on them again, and again, because the producer has tweaked the formula; I understand the need for an all-encompassing ban based on the impact rather than the chemistry.
Yet, the key word is psychoactive. Poppers may cause a ‘rush’ but, do they “change brain function and result in alterations in perception, mood, or consciousness” which is the definition of psychoactive?
Yes, arguably they can change the mood, but ‘perception’ and ‘consciousness’? Also, the key issue is harm.
Given that the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) hasn’t asked for the ban, I challenged the Minister about the ban; especially on the issue of little or no evidence of harm. I was told firmly that poppers had been implicated in numerous deaths. Well so has tobacco and so has alcohol, but they aren’t being banned.
When pressed, it appears eight deaths seem to have had poppers as a contributory factor, not the cause — contributory. Other reasons such as a heart condition or the use of poppers with other legal drugs such as Viagra or illegal drugs appear to be the real reason. Such arguments are falling on stony ground.
Not one to shy away from being blunt, I raised the issue of anal sex. The issue being that poppers were, for many, integral to facilitating and enjoying a healthy sex life.
Then there is the issue of Eire, who have already banned poppers — or have they? The Home Office believes they have, but the evidence coming from Eire is that they are still on sale in licensed sex shops. So has the Irish ban been dropped, or is it simply not being enforced, and why? Although ACMD hasn’t pressed for a ban; the Minister is now saying that anyone who wishes the ban to be revoked has to submit evidence to the ACMD.
So the chink in the ban appears to be that the body charged with advising the Minister hasn’t asked for a ban, and so may well be sympathetic to a request, with evidence [or more accurately lack of evidence] showing poppers are not a psychoactive substance and that they should be sold through regulated licensed sex shops.
Working with the National Aids Trust, Prowler, Stonewall and others, we’re collating the evidence and reviewing the experience of Eire.
The battle isn’t over.
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