‘Legal Highs’ Desirable, Dangerous and Misunderstood

‘Legal Highs’ hit the headlines again recently following the death of a festival goer in Scotland who was suspected of having taken drugs and several other who were taken to hospital for treatment after having taken so called ‘legal highs’.

I could add a blog entry almost every week on this subject and the latest casualty following drug use, both illegal and so called ‘legal drugs’.

Mexxy Banned

The government recently used it new powers to ban the previously ‘legal high’ Methoxetamine (aka Mexxy) making it illegal to possess, produce or supply the substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and making supply an offence punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment.

These new powers allow the government to ban a substance for 12 months while they investigate further as to the risks associated with their use; effectively classifying the substance as a drug during that period.

Does this solve the problem? Unfortunately not, often the chemists simply alter the chemical compounds slightly to get around such legislation. These new powers do however allow for a wider range of similar compounds to be covered by the same order.

The government is never really going to be the driving force which will effectively stop young people seeking out this type of chemical high and cynicism about what drives government policy is a difficult hurdle to overcome; especially in younger people.

The problem is those people marketing these products are completely unregulated; it is actually a freighting concept that there is more regulation surrounding the production of loaf of bread, than a drug or so called ‘legal high’.

The baker will have to undergo hygiene inspections, risk assess their suppliers of raw materials, train staff in food safety in preparation, be able to prove their supply chain maintains hygiene standards and publish a sell by date. If they advertise the bread, this is also strictly controlled by the advertising standards association to ensure that the message is factually accurate.

The seller of a ‘legal high’ can set up a website, fill it with a pack of lies, proclaim it to be safe on the basis of ‘belief’ rather than factual evidence and wait for orders to roll in; there is no accountability.

Many young people believe that because these drugs are advertised as ‘legal’ they must be ‘safe’. It is a serious problem, created by effective marketing by the drug dealers (what in the normal commercial surroundings would be called false advertising) and the ineffective marketing against such substances by government.

One of the solutions needs to be to get more festival operators and night club owners as well as pub and bars work with the government to combat these problems.

I have heard too many times about the operators of the places which attract young people being compliant with the drug dealers, rather than taking seriously their duty of care to their customers. It is difficult, would you want to run a club which clamps down on ‘legal highs’, while your competitor tolerates them?

The industry must work better together.

The argument many of these venues make is that these substances are ‘legal’ and therefore their hands are tied; that is simply untrue.

Venues which have door supervisors or security and run a search policy would, if they found alcohol on a customer, remove it from them without hesitation or even turn that person away. Alcohol is a ‘legal drug’, it is controlled by being sold under licence.

Many people think it is illegal to take alcohol into licensed premises; it isn’t.

Licence holders stop alcohol coming onto their premises for commercial reasons and to better allow them to control alcohol consumption and thus promote the licensing objectives. This is a perfectly sensible approach; effectively they are imposing a condition of entry which is that ‘if you want to come in, alcohol must be left at the door’.

Please note; legally a customer can surrender the alcohol, but it can not be confiscated, if they choose not to surrender it the only recourse is to refuse them entry (or if they are already inside remove them).

What is the difference between alcohol and a ‘legal high’?

The answer to this question when it comes to your rights as a venue operator is, nothing.

If you decide to make it a condition of entry that ‘no one shall be admitted who is in possession of any substance or suspected substance which you believe to be a drug (legal or otherwise)’, that is your prerogative.

Just because a substance is ‘legal’ doesn’t mean you have to tolerate it on your premises, you are always allowed to use your discretion when it come to the right of admittance, providing you do not discriminate in any way.

If everyone came together with such an approach legal highs would soon be categorised the same way as illegal drugs when people are out at events and on licensed premises. The problem would not go away, but it would help reduce the use of ‘legal highs’.

The next step is for government to think more laterally as to how they get the message (truth) out. People need to realise that far from being a friend to party goers, dealers of such ‘legal high’ take your money, put a gun to your head and play Russian roulette with your life.




Author - Peter Mayhew is the Managing Director of Beyond the Blue Training & Consultancy. He delivers training courses and provides expert opinion on alcohol & entertainment licensing, drug awareness and providing solutions to workplace violence through conflict resolution for individuals, organisations and public bodies. Peter is a frequent contributor to industry publications.

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