Back in September, Ears To The House reported on how the British government had just voted to criminalise the use of nitrous oxide – more commonly known as laughing gas. Rishi Sunak’s administration – which is miles behind in the polls and faces a likely defeat at the next general election – announced the move in an attempt to shore up his own supporters.
With laughing gas being a class C drug in the UK, that means possession of the drug can now be punished with up to two years in prison – rising to a potential 14-year stretch on the inside for anyone supplying producing or importing it. Quite where they’re going to put all these people is a mystery – according to the Government’s own figures, there were only 557 spare prison spaces left across England and Wales last month.
As we pointed out in September, the government’s decision to criminalise laughing gas flies in the face of its own advice. Two years ago, they asked their own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to report on the subject – they counselled against criminalisation on the grounds it would be disproportionate to the problems it causes, and would also cause issues for those using nitrous oxide legally.
So why did they decide to ignore the ACMD’s advice on the subject? A government press release earlier this week reveals the answer – and we already feel sorry for the civil service who had to type this out…
“The ACMD did highlight anecdotal reports of an increase in both social and neurological harms, including the risk of neurological harm it presents to users when consumed in extreme volumes.
The government is entitled and expected to take a broader view and consider other relevant factors… There is still more evidence to collect about the full extent of the harms of nitrous oxide, so we have gone further than the ACMD advice, taking action to keep people safe and crack down on antisocial behaviour.”
The ACMD also pointed out that criminalisation was a disproportionate response to fixing the social problems caused by the drug. They also said it would cause problems for those using the drug for legal purposes – hence why the new law is filled with so many caveats and exemptions that it becomes utterly unreadable.
As for the “keeping people safe” line, isn’t that the same stuff that they came out with during the pandemic? They didn’t exactly do a good job there – some 227,000 people across the UK died with the virus. But easily the worst line in here is that “the government is entitled and expected to take a broader view and consider other relevant factors”.
Indeed – relevant factors such as their appalling poll ratings. Relevant factors such as the fact they wanted to keep the support of mostly right-wing newspapers – even though the ACMD said the response was out of proportion with the problem. Relevant factors such as wanting to look tough on drugs, even though the policy has failed Britain – and many other nations – for decades.
If it wasn’t so ridiculous, it would be enough to make you laugh. Just don’t reach for the gas whilst you’re at it…