Mephedrone was classified in the UK as a Class B substance in April last year. Prior to the ban it was a "legal high", with users buying it primarily from websites that advertised it as "plant food". Since then prices have approximately doubled to £20 per gram and the trade has been taken over by street dealers.
UK Home Office figures published in July found mephedrone ranks joint second with cocaine behind cannabis in popularity among 16- to 24-year-olds, with 4.4% having taken it in the previous 12 months.
Yes, it's another triumph for prohibition. Mephedrone is one of dozens of drugs to have surfaced as legal highs in recent years. Most legal highs have little going for them apart from their legality. Mephedrone's staying power suggests that it has qualities which allow it to compete as a controlled substance. Whether it is truly dangerous—let alone addictive, as The Guardian's report claims—remains to be seen. All the mephedrone-related deaths reported in the media before it was banned turned out not to be mephedrone-related at all (as readers of The Art of Suppression will know). Since it was banned, there has been talk of 200 deaths, but, if so, specific incidents have been uncharacteristically absent from the newspapers.
All of which leads me to mention the article I wrote for City AM yesterday, the theme of which is the futility of this war on chemistry.
Despite immense efforts by police, customs officers and legislators, there has been no decline in the nation’s consumption of illicit chemicals since the ecstasy panic peaked fifteen years ago. What we have instead is an ever-widening menu of narcotics about which users and authorities know little.
One proposed solution is to introduce a law similar to the USA’s Analog Act which automatically bans drugs which are “substantially similar” to banned substances. The idea is tempting in its simplicity, but this Nixon-era legislation is too vague to be legally useful and has rarely been invoked. The grey market continues to be one step ahead of legislation.
An alternative solution was proposed last week by Dr James Bell, of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, who suggested abandoning the unwinnable war against chemistry in favour of legalisation. All calls for drug liberalisation fall on stony political ground and Bell’s was no different, but there would be no better way of stopping the flood of dubious chemicals than a regulated free market. These drugs are nobody’s first choice. BZP was originally a worming tablet for cattle. Ketamine was a veterinary anaesthetic. GBL was a superglue remover. In all likelihood, that is what they would have remained had ecstasy not been banned.
Nobody made 80 per cent proof gin in their bathtubs after prohibition was repealed in 1933. Instead, Americans turned from distilled spirits to beer, the number of alcohol poisonings fell and the murder rate subsided. There is a lesson there for those fighting against narcotic moonshine today.
Do go read it all.