The forthcoming ban on so-called ‘legal highs’ and its impact on minority communities seems to be passing almost without notice, and only ceremonial opposition in Parliament. Chris Ashford offers an important corrective in the Guardian. He explains how merely sharing amongst friends and partners a drug that poses no harm to the vast majority of users could see gay men (not only but in particular) arrested, and slapped with criminal records:
Perhaps your friend failed to stockpile, and you offer to help out by giving them a bottle. This would amount to supplying or offering to supply under the new law – provided you intentionally supply, you know or suspect it’s poppers and you know it will be consumed, or you’re “reckless” as to whether it will be consumed by the person you give it to or anyone else. There is an additional offence of being in possession to supply.
This policy, combined with the use of anti-porn laws to criminalise records of consensual gay sex, puts me in mind of Marx’s famous contrast between the formal abstract rights of the citizen, and the failure of those rights to materialise in actual civil society. Formally, LGBT individuals have more legal rights than ever, including equal rights to marry. Yet LGBT still find their bodies subject to intrusive regulation (on health and moral grounds). As citizens, LGBT people are afforded formal respect in the public sphere. But as living, breathing sensuous human beings who want to enjoy sex on their own terms, they remain stigmatised and criminalised. Their private practices remain taboo, and liable to get them into trouble should they encroach, deliberately or accidently, into the public eye. By criminalising poppers (and yet more drugs), the government brings the law further into disrepute. It makes outlaws of people who pose barely any harm to themselves and no harm at all to others, and it takes the criminal justice system further away from increasingly liberal public attitudes.