The drugs have been in a ‘legal grey area’ since 2016, but now Priti Patel is seeking to exempt them from any bans
UK home secretary Priti Patel, who has a terrible track record when it comes to gay rights, has become an unexpected ally after seeking to clarify the legal status of poppers amid confusion over 2016 legislation, and make them exempt from any bans.
Poppers, AKA alkyl nitrites, are sold as room odourisers, but are commonly inhaled recreationally. They’re particularly popular with gay men, because of their ability to relax your anal muscles before sex.
In 2016, the government passed the Psychoactive Substances Act, which bans anything that “by simulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system… affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state”. The Act doesn’t include alcohol, tobacco, nicotine-based products, caffeine, food, drink, and medicinal products.
priti patel looking to boost the UK economy by getting the gays to buy poppers i see— scott (@scottcrawfrd) August 12, 2020
At the time, poppers were granted a last-minute exclusion after an outcry from the LGBTQ+ community, led by former Tory minister Crispin Blunt. Despite this exemption – made on the basis that alkyl nitrites have an ‘indirect’ psychoactive effect – poppers have since been in a ‘legal grey area’.
“When the Psychoactive Substances Bill was being discussed in parliament, assurances were made by government that poppers did not fall within the definition of what a psychoactive substance is,” Niamh Eastwood, the executive director of drug expert organisation, Release, tells Dazed. “The courts, however, determined that this was incorrect.”
Now, Patel is seeking clarity on the drugs’ legality, and has said she’s “minded” to explicitly exempt them in order to eradicate confusion. In a letter to the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), Patel asserted that poppers shouldn’t be included in the legislation because they don’t have a direct effect on the central nervous system. She is seeking the ACMD’s advice on exemption.
“It appears ministers passed a piece of legislation they didn’t understand, but given successive governments’ decision to ignore the evidence for drug policy reform, this is hardly surprising” – Niamh Eastwood, Release
Eastwood says Patel’s request to exempt poppers is “welcomed”, but that it shows “what a mess the legislation is”. She continues: “It appears ministers passed a piece of legislation they didn’t understand, but given successive governments’ decision to ignore the evidence for drug policy reform, harm reduction interventions that could save lives, and the damage caused by the UK’s approach to drugs, this is hardly surprising.”
Activists are pointing out the absurdity of Patel seeking clarification about poppers, while ignoring the rising number of drug-related deaths, which surged by 16 per cent in 2018. “It’s disappointing that Priti Patel failed to ask the ACMD to consider some of the real harms,” concludes Eastwood, “like the fact the UK has record high levels of drug-related deaths and is criminalising thousands of people every year for possession of other drugs.”
Look back at Dazed’s secret history of poppers here, and see an alternative theory to Patel’s change of heart below.
priti patel is only legalising poppers because we are all about to get massively bummed by this govt— Ruf Dug (@RufDug) August 13, 2020