The former Deputy Prime Minister of the UK, Liberal Democrat MP Nick Clegg, has said that ‘legitimate businesses’ that produce poppers should be allowed to continue producing them while the Government undertakes a review on whether to exempt them from the new Psychoactive Substances Bill.
The bill is due to come into effect on 6 April. Unlike previous British drug legislation, rather than ban a specific substance the bill bans any substance that has a psychoactive effect.
Its introduction has come about in an effort to crack down on the proliferation of so-called ‘legal highs’ – with manufacturers often producing slightly altered chemical substances as soon as one drug is outlawed.
Some substances, such as alcohol, caffeine and even nutmeg (which can have a psychoactive effect when consumed in sufficient quantities) have been granted exemption status.
Producers and users of poppers – alkyl nitrites – say that they should also be exempt. They say that there are few reported health risks from using them and have questioned whether they truly have a psychoactive effect.
Despite this, the Conservative–led Government has pressed ahead with their inclusion in the bill. However, insiders have said that once the bill becomes law, the question of whether poppers should be excluded will again be addressed by an independent review.
The three-month review will be overseen by Karen Bradley, a Conservative Whip.
Speaking to the Guardian yesterday Nick Clegg said, ‘Poppers have been around for decades. The evidence shows they don’t pose any great risk to health, and that’s why they have never been banned before.’
‘Frankly they could have been made exempt from the new act without the need for a review, but the Government didn’t want to admit they had got it wrong. While there is a review ongoing, of course the legitimate businesses that produce poppers should be allowed to continue to operate.’
‘People who use poppers will be forced to turn to illegal suppliers’
Yorkshire-based gay businessman John Addy is Europe’s biggest producers of poppers in Europe, known for his ‘Liquid Gold’ brand. He says that poppers should be exempt not only for having few serious health risks, but because he disputes them being psychoactive.
Alkyl nitrites have a vasodilator effect; they cause muscles to relax and blood vessels to dilate. Their ability to relax muscles means they are popular with some gay men when having anal sex.
They also cause a slight head rush effect, but whether this is true to a drop in blood pressure or their effect on the nervous system has been questioned.
A 2011 report by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs concluded that poppers did not result in ‘harmful effect sufficient to constitute a societal problem’.
Addy told the Guardian, ‘I employ eight people, and if I get closed down they go on the dole immediately. Then the knock on effect in the industry is that 600 or 700 people could be made unemployed, because the product is sold in adult shops, and the revenue from that pays people’s wages.’
Gay Star Business has approached Addy for further comment on how he thinks the impending law will effect his business.
The poppers ban has also been criticized by LGBT charity Stonewall, which says it will prompt many gay men to turn to illegal sources.
‘People who use poppers will be forced to turn to illegal suppliers who could supply poppers containing unknown harmful substances or indeed more harmful illegal drugs. This is not acceptable and puts gay and bi men at risk.’
As the law stands, after 6 April, anyone found guilty of selling or supplying poppers could potentially face up to seven years in prison.