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Mushrooms misjudged The Drugs Act 2005 offers a key example of why parliamentarians should not pass laws in pre-election season, argues Paul Flynn.
Pre-election tension creates bad law, and the Drugs Act 2005 is a supremely dreadful example. Conceived in blind opportunist prejudice, written in ignorance and enacted with cowardly incompetence, it shames Parliament.
Just one clause criminalises half a generation, closes down 400 small businesses that pay ?1m in VAT, and increases annual prosecutions by 3,076.
Clause 21 also put us in breach of international agreements by banning a substance that is legally on sale elsewhere in Europe. No party opposed it and it sailed through all parliamentary stages, with opposition confined to a handful of knowledgeable parliamentarians. The demented clause puts magic mushrooms in the same banned category as heroin and cocaine.
Post-election sobriety persuaded the Home Office to postpone implementation of clause 21 until after the Glastonbury Festival. There are not enough police in the land to lock up all those who consumed mushrooms there. Government is shy about implementing its new powers to throw into the slammer all owners of gardens where the mushrooms appear. But the law states that they own a class A drug and are guilty of the same offence as owning a crack house.
Another hilarious subplot in the Act defines certain drugs-selling offences as ?aggravated?, deserving severe penalties. The concept is futile. It began with the threat to hammer those who sell drugs near schools... and then near youth clubs, sports centres... and then routes to those places as well... and then, of course, the short cuts.
The Act cobwebs all urban areas and defines them as sites for exemplary penalties. But maximum sentences for drugs offences are rarely, if ever used. The courts already have ample discretion in sentencing.
Some colleagues kindly signed my early day motion calling for a ban of all legislation three months before a general election. The Drugs Act 2005 is a monument to MPs? shared fear of the accusation of being ?soft? on drugs. ?Tough? on drugs wins votes. Acting ?intelligently? on drugs is not a pre-election choice. Can we now do better?
Paul Flynn is Labour MP for Newport West and vice-chairman of the all-party group on drug misuse