The malign effects of some legal highs can be disturbing to behold. Take self-righteousness, a mind-altering and extremely addictive intoxicant that can lead otherwise rational people to behave in a recklessly irrational manner.
Our TV screens glowed last week with the flushed faces of righteousness-junkies as the government announced its ban on many of the products sold in head shops, and self-appointed representatives of the moral majority wallowed in delirious elation. As with all chemically induced thrills, however, the moment of bliss soon passes and the hangover invariably lasts much longer than the high.
The banning of substances with “psychoactive effects” — products that mimic the impact on the brain of cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy — was a clear victory for those who prefer to confront social problems by shrieking rather than reasoning. By introducing the prohibitions and launching the accompanying crackdown on head shops, the state was capitulating to an outburst of public hysteria fuelled by media panic-mongering and largely ill-informed fears about the harm caused by drug use.
A calmer assessment by the authorities would have demonstrated that the sheer magnitude of the head shop phenomenon required something more considered and radical than the usual knee-jerk response to any development identified as a “drugs crisis”. In a curious way, therefore, the new laws are not dissimilar to the products they criminalise. The ban is a synthetic solution, mimicking the effects of decisive action but really offering nothing more than false security.
Head shops are a service industry. With an estimated 100 outlets nationwide, and many thriving in rural backwaters where other businesses are closing, the sector would never have gotten so big so quickly if demand for its products was not enormous, consistent and widespread.
With remarkable speed, the popularity of head shops dealt a significant blow to the illegal drugs trade. Figures recently published by the Central Statistics Office for the first three months of the year revealed a sharp decline in the importation of illicit narcotics.
Anyone who believes the ban will obliterate demand for psychoactive substances is either stupid or stoned. The likelihood is that new legal highs will continually come onto the market to fill the void, just as mephedrone became an international drug of choice when BZP was outlawed in many countries.
Admittedly, many who support the crackdown on head shops concede that last week’s move is not a silver bullet for all of Ireland’s drugs ills. The more level-headed choose to see the ban as a “damage limitation exercise”, an attempt to shut down at least one major source of supply. However, this contention ignores the law of unintended consequences.
Unable to buy “bath salts” or “plant food” at head shops, some substance abusers will switch to more dangerous illegal drugs or seek to concoct their own legal highs using medication and alcohol. This will result in disaster for some.
Arguments about the hypocrisy of attempting to fight a “war on drugs” in a booze-drenched and heavily (prescription) medicated society have been well rehearsed and one is either convinced by them or one isn’t. However, the best argument in favour of regulating rather than closing head shops is practical, not rhetorical. Their rapid proliferation brought Ireland’s drug culture into the open. It offered the authorities a golden opportunity to control sales and monitor the quality of what was sold. If so minded, the authorities could also have gathered data on drug use, the true nature of which officialdom remains remarkably ignorant.
By driving the drugs trade back underground, however, the government and its well-intentioned cheerleaders have taken a retrograde step and may well have created conditions for more serious trouble in the future. Ironically, by placing their eagerness to feel good (i.e. righteous) above all other considerations, the prohibitionists are guilty of the same irresponsible self-indulgence they so feverishly despise among drug users.
+ If Brian Cowen can’t say sorry, he should stop making speeches. That mealy-mouthed address, in which he acknowledged mistakes were made while he was finance minister but absolved himself of responsibility, only further damaged his already shattered reputation. According to Cowen, he was an innocent bystander, misled by advisers and regulators. When he did act, apparently, he did nothing but good.
Cowen’s bungled effort at self-criticism sounded suspiciously like an investment on the compliments stock market. Far from apologising for derailing the economy, he was essentially demanding credit for the fact that things aren’t even worse. He wasn’t prostrating himself, he was taking a bow.
We all know what happened and who screwed up. A candid admission of culpability by Cowen is required simply to demonstrate that he’s not still living in denial and has belatedly learnt from his blunders. His inability to utter the crucial words speaks volumes.
Norris rubbishes ‘wedding’
In uncertain times, it’s reassuring to learn that Senator David Norris is still gay. The eminent gay rights campaigner, who’s out of the closet about wanting to move into the Aras, has rubbished tabloid headlines suggesting he’d switched teams and was contemplating marrying a female friend.
Norris’s clarification allayed fears that the presidential hopeful was going overboard in efforts to cultivate the family-values vote. By reaffirming his commitment to the hairier sex, he proves himself one of society’s sturdiest pillars. It’s bad enough losing our triple-A credit rating, but Irish life would be dramatically destabilised if the status of our most stately homo were downgraded to bi-curious. Long live the queen.
No hope of sexing up Bertie scandal
Alastair Campbell, the UK Labour party spindoctor, will return to Ireland in the summer to outline how “the next general election will be won or lost”. His advice on how to lose an election should be attentively heeded, as he can certainly walk the walk.
Campbell, who’s promoting a book, will be guest of honour at Trim’s Swift Festival, a weekend of debate and revelry in honour of satirist Jonathan Swift who had close links with the Meath town.
As on previous visits, Campbell will no doubt praise the moral excellence of his friend Bertie Ahern. This time, however, he will be hard-pressed to find buyers for his claim that the Mahon tribunal’s investigation of Ahern’s finances is a “fishing expedition”, a petty attempt to tarnish a great leader.
Sexing up the Iraq dossier was easy but prettifying that hoary old yarn is now beyond even the most creative fabulist.
Same sex, different day
Pope Benedict’s renewed attack on same sex marriage was no surprise. After all, he has nothing else to worry about these days.
Nevertheless, it’s a strategic error for the Pope’s remaining followers to use PC terms like “same sex relationships” to describe activities for which they once had an abundance of more colourful phrases.
Such terminology causes confusion. For traditionalists who take church teaching seriously, the Pope’s preferred marital option — “indissoluble union between a man and a woman” — is actually the ultimate same sex marriage.
’Til death do you part, it’s the same sex.
May 16, 2010
Righteous high over closing head shops will be short lived