A proposed legal highs ban that would result in dealers getting up to seven years in prison has been strongly criticised by government advisers.
In a letter to Theresa May, the home secretary, the government's drug advisers group said the controversial bill would, in its current form, have the "serious unintended consequences" of preventing scientific research, prosecuting people buying harmless herbal medicine, and disproportionately criminalising otherwise law-abiding young people.
The government wants to introduce the "psychoactive substances bill" during this parliament to ban "any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect" – including things like laughing gas.
But the Advisory Council of the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which gives the government advice on how to control harmful drugs, said the the government has ignored its advice and produced a bill that goes much further than needed and risks driving users underground.
The chair of the ACMD, Professor Iverson, wrote that the bill "may not achieve its aims and may produce serious unintended consequences".
Iverson is particularly critical that the bill doesn't limit itself to "novel" psychoactive substances, as was recommended by his group, but instead would introduce a "blanket ban" of all psychoactive substances – even if they're harmless.
"It is almost impossible to list all possible desirable exemptions under the bill," wrote Iverson. "As drafted, the bill may now include substances that are benign or even helpful to people including evidence-based herbal remedies that are not included on the current exemption list."
He went on to say that it is impossible to prove if a substance is psychoactive or not by laboratory testing, and that the wording of the bill would end up prosecuting people for trading perfectly mundane items.
"Without the inclusion of the words 'harmful' or 'potentially harmful', the ACMD can envisage situations whereby the supplier of benign or beneficial substances could be prosecuted under the Bill," wrote Iverson.
The letter also states that the bill would end up unfairly affecting young people and those from ethnic minorities, due to what the professor calls the "over-representation of members of these groups at each stage of the criminal justice response to drug offences".
The ACMD has asked May to meet with it to discuss its problems with the bill.
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
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