Yes... says York drugs worker Paul Tye

The ban on mephedrone will have an almost immediate impact on availability of the drug, says York drugs worker Paul Tye. He expects the number of people selling it to drop by half.

Mr Tye, who runs substance abuse programmes for both adults and young people for York Crime Reduction Initiative, says mephedrone – also known as M-CAT, bubbles and meow – is mainly used by young people.

Adults tend to use it only when it is sold to them as cocaine, he says. But among younger teenagers, use of the drug exploded in the weeks leading up to the ban.

Partly that was down to peer pressure, Mr Tye says – and partly down to young people wanting to try something adults were telling them they shouldn’t.

But because the drug is used mainly by under-18s, criminal dealers have stayed away from it. The average supplier of the drug is a 17-year-old who is at home on the internet and orders mephedrone online to supply to younger teenagers aged 13 to 15.

As long as the drug was legal, they saw nothing wrong with that. “They didn’t think they were committing a crime or doing anything wrong. They didn’t see the other side – the 14 and 15-year-olds coming up to exams who haven’t been able to sleep for days.”

Mr Tye believes as many as 50 per cent of the older teenagers who have been getting the drug online and supplying it to younger friends will stop now the drug has been banned. And, because most users of the drug are underage, he doesn’t think professional criminals will step in to fill the gap. “They are not going to deal with people under the age of 17. They are too much trouble. There is always the chance they will tell a teacher, or another adult.”

The ban will mean a big drop in availability of the drug – which is why he backed the Press’s campaign.

What he expects to see now is the police and the Government taking a tough line with the first cases. “They will make examples of people, give them good sentences. Everybody will go ‘ooh!’. It will reduce the number of people taking the drug.”

Mr Tye doesn’t buy the argument that banning mephedrone will make it harder to give teenagers reliable information. “We have good access to children in the city of York – good pathways to reach young people,” he says.

No... says anti-ban campaigner Steve Clements

The Government was just playing politics when it rushed through the ban on mephedrone, says anti-prohibition campaigner Steve Clements. And all it has done is make things worse.

Mr Clements, a York market stallholder who has long campaigned for drugs such as cannabis to be legalised, says banning mephedrone has played into the hands of criminals. Yes, Mr Clements admits, drugs can ruin lives. Alcohol is a drug, and it ruins plenty of lives. But banning drugs isn’t the answer. “By banning everything, you’re simply handing the market to criminals.

“That increases crime, and it increases the harm caused by taking substances, because criminals start mixing it with all sorts of other substances to make it go further.”

Prohibition doesn’t stop people using drugs, he says.

“Since the Misuse of Drugs Act came into force in 1971, drug use has gone up. We’ve got some of the most prohibitive drugs laws in Europe, and one of the worst drugs problems.”

He is not in favour of a drugs free-for-all, Mr Clements stresses. Rather, he favours proper regulation: with drugs such as mephedrone legalised, but sold under controlled and regulated conditions, as with alcohol and tobacco.

That could, for example, include a ban on sale of the drug to those under 16 or under 18, but not a blanket ban.

He understands parents’ worries.

“But if I was standing in front of one of them and they said ‘my son has been taking this stuff and it has ruined his life, we have to ban it,’ I’d say: ‘Would a ban stop him getting hold of it? Does a ban stop people getting heroin, or cocaine?’”

Drugs can be harmful, he admits – particularly when taken in combination with other drugs or with alcohol.

But because of politics, we aren’t able to discuss sensibly the degree of risk.

Professor David Nutt, the former Government drugs adviser, was sacked for claiming that ecstasy and LSD were less harmful than alcohol, he points out.

Such a stifling of debate that goes with the criminalisation of drugs just makes it harder to provide the kind of reliable information young people need, Mr Clements says.

“This should be a health issue, not a criminal issue. Information is blocked by prohibition.

“Because the drug is illegal, no-one can give advice on how to use it more safely.”