The Conservative government of the UK, with the support of many politicians on the opposite benches, announced this week that the possession of nitrous oxide or laughing gas as it is commonly known, will become a criminal offence.
This will be the first time that laughing gas has been criminalised, and the bill will largely be supported by the Labour Party, the second-largest political party in the UK. However, the plans go against the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) which advises the government on drug related policy using research and evidence.
Many other experts on drug regulation have criticised the new bill, so, why has the government chosen to go ahead with this plan?
UK politicians not following evidence
The Conservative Party have had one of their most tumultuous years since coming to power twelve years ago, and that is even with the drama that continues over Brexit.
Boris Johnson was forced to resign after the majority of his cabinet resigned stating they could no longer work for him. This was after being accused of partying during Covid-19 lockdowns and supporting and joking about one of his Conservative MPs accused of groping.
He was replaced by Liz Truss who managed to survive as Prime Minister for just 49 days after introducing a disastrous budget which cost the UK £30 billion.
Rishi Sunak is now the man in charge of the Conservative Party and the UK. His short time in power has not been without controversy either, with many upset at what is perceived to be a cruel and possible illegal (under the European Convention of Human Rights) “stop the boats” bill.
However, such a bill is seen by the Conservative voting base as a necessity and a true deterrent. The deterrent idea plays well in the media and with the general public as the policy is simple and easy to understand.
The idea behind banning laughing gas again plays into feeding his Conservative base who traditionally support strict measures on drug use. However, both bills fail to solve the root cause and will act as a sticking plaster over the issue until they break once more.
The ACMD reported that a ban on laughing gas and the punishment that would accompany it would be disproportionate to the level of harm associated with the drug. This will explain why much of the commentary from the Conservative party has focussed on the anti-social aspect of the drug rather than the risks it can cause to the user.
Professor David Nutt, a former government drugs tsar, has said that laughing gas is far safer than alcohol and that the ban was not based on scientific evidence.
The ban would also cause issues for the legitimate use of the drug. The substance is often used as an anaesthetic in medicine and dentistry, as well as by chefs who use the gas to make whipped cream.
Leap UK, a collection of former law enforcement members have decried the bill and have urged the government to base the nation’s drug laws on “rigorous evidence” rather than making “ad hoc decision based on personal beliefs”.
For the Conservative government, however, this bill is a simple and easy win to show how tough they are on crime despite the eventual results proving detrimental.
Lukewarm reaction from the public
Although the new bill should play well for traditional Tory voters, the reaction has been rather lukewarm so far, which suggests that the public might finally be tiring of hearing the standard government proposal.
The Daily Mail, one of the Conservative’s strongest supporters, restricted the story to page 6 of their newspaper, this despite Rishi Sunak penning the article.
Sunak was then also criticised by members of the public at a hustings with suggestions that there were more important criminal issues to solve rather than the issue of nitrous oxide.
The Tories are currently fighting a large deficit in the polls, a lack of trust in politicians and a cost of living crisis. Policies such as a laughing gas ban should be an easy win for them, but not for the country.
UK politicians rehash old policies
It is not just the Conservatives who have returned to the “tough on drugs” program that has proven so unsuccessful over the past 5 decades.
Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party, recently explained why he was against legalising cannabis. Wes Streeting, the Labour Shadow Health Secretary, went further and said that the “war on drugs hasn’t even begun”.
Both parties will have their reasons for their programs, mainly believing that the traditional right-wing press will support them and that will hence play well with the public.
But history has shown us that these bills rarely work and often just lead to further crime emboldening criminal behaviour. The Colombian President has recently described the war on drugs as a “complete failure”.
In London alone, a study has estimated that the public are spending £1.45 on illegal cannabis to help treat their health conditions. This is in spite of the fact that after a lengthy campaign, the NHS can provide cannabis as a treatment. Unfortunately, it is apparent that the NHS is reluctant to prescribe it.
The larger irony of the UK’s drug policy is that many members of parliament have used illegal drugs in their youth but now tout how much they regret themselves doing so. Then there is also the fact that traces of cocaine have been found in 11 of the 12 bathrooms tested in the Houses of Parliament.
The UK has decided to take the opposite approach to many of their allies. Many states in the U.S. have legalised cannabis for recreational use, and it is expected that Germany will legalise cannabis in the coming weeks.
Portugal has one of the most progressive drug policies in the world and the results have been positive. There is clear evidence that there is an alternative to the traditional methods of dealing with drugs.
How much longer must UK politicians recycle the same policies to get the same results only to recycle them once more?
What happens next?
This new policy will not work like the many attempted before it. Until the British government, whichever party that might be, takes a logical evidence-based approach, the nation will keep retreading its steps as it has done for so many years now.
The time has come for politicians to ignore the outdated stigma that was born out of the conservative movement in the 1960s, exacerbated by the “just say no” of Nancy Reagan and the war on drugs that has caused so much destruction.
Other nations have shown what is possible with a progressive drug policy, one that doesn’t criminalise the user, one that actually harms the criminals that thrive off sending drugs underground rather than regulating the industry.
Here at The Natural Halo we will campaign for not just the UK politicians, but politicians throughout the world to take a logical and evidence based approach to drug regulation.