Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

Portugal's 2001 Drugs Liberalisation Policy: A UK Service Provider's Perspective on the Psychoactive Substances Act (2016)

Academic journal article Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education

Portugal's 2001 Drugs Liberalisation Policy: A UK Service Provider's Perspective on the Psychoactive Substances Act (2016)

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The Misuse of Drugs Act (MDA, 1971) is the primary legislation for controlling psychoactive substances in the UK and is distinguished by ABC classes of their harmfulness. An estimated 500 substances are controlled via the MDA (Reuter, 2011). The Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) was developed to guide the MDA regarding the harms associated with psychoactive substances. Despite efforts of the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) to establish an evidence-based approach to the MDA classification, the ABC classification is unsupported with scientific evidence (Nutt, 2009). For example, a study conducted by Chandler et al. (2014) found that UK authorities prioritise opioid (class A) use as a drug-related problem to be addressed within the community borders through substitution therapy and residential programs, but benzodiazepine (class C) abuse is a common problem among young parents, especially pregnant women, yet remains largely ignored (Chandler et al., 2014).

The Psychoactive Substances Act (2016) has been developed to curtail the use and supply of legal highs. The manufacture and availability of legal highs is diverse where developing a suitable classification system under the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) to criminalise these drugs is a proven challenge. The Psychoactive Substances Act (2016) states that headshops will be the focus of enforcement (Home Office, 2016). However, easy access to these substances via the Internet will prove harder to monitor and control compared to headshops. Further, what constitutes a legal high is difficult to define and many of the challenges which presented the MDA will no doubt become apparent to the Psychoactive Substances Act (2016). According to this act, one is prohibited from "producing, supplying, offering to supply, possessing with an intent to supply or within places of custody, importing or exporting of any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect" (Nutt, King & Phillips, 2010). The Psychoactive Substances Act (2016) appears to not criminalise those in possession of legal highs (personal use) unless those in possession are in prison.

Due to the growing incidence of HIV and hepatitis among intravenous-injecting drug users, UK policymakers ensured the accessibility of needle exchange schemes and health education for the at-risk population segment (Monaghan, 2012). This period was characterised by treatment-focused harm reduction interventions. In 1995, the UK Tackling Drugs Together policy involved harsh criminalisation due to the high-level of drug-related criminal statistics (Monaghan, 2012). However, Hughes and Stevens (2010) argued that harsh criminalisation is a possible panacea for society, regardless of scientific evidence stating the opposite, and the fear that any steps towards decriminalisation would have "sent the wrong message" to the public (p. 999). In this respect, Newcombe (2008) has termed the UK drug policies as a "drug war." Indeed, the debate on drug policy remains polarised where the 'war on drugs' perpetuates the opinion of controlling drugs via the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) and in part the Psychoactive Substances Act (2016).

Other countries by comparison have employed alternate methods of control and enforcement. Decriminalisation of drug possession for personal use includes Portugal, Czech Republic, Brazil and Bolivia (Feiling, 2011). Indeed, Portuguese 15-year experience of decriminalisation of drugs has been widely promoted as a relevant strategy to eliminate the UK's 'war on drugs' through the adaptation of this policy framework (Feiling, 2011). Decriminalisation refers to "a new response to drug offences through administrative processes where "drug addiction is a health issue and not a criminal one" (Ponte, 2015, p. 18). As a result, the Portuguese approach entails that individuals are allowed to acquire, possess and personally use psychoactive drugs, including cannabis, in small quantities, without prosecution (Greenwald, 2009; Laqueur, 2014). …

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