Banning “meow meow” would be counterproductive

The heavily publicised deaths of two teenagers in Lincolnshire who took mephedrone (known as “meow meow”) has led to calls for the drug to be banned. Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling has stated there is a “very strong case” for banning meow meow, while Lord Mandelson has stated that its legality will be considered “very speedily, very carefully”. It would appear that little has been learnt from the failure of prohibitions imposed on other recreational drugs and that scant regard is being given to the principle of self ownership – if individuals own their bodies then they must be free to harm themselves.

There is strong evidence from previous prohibitions (heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and so on) that banning mephedrone will only increase the harm it causes. Worryingly, the “forbidden fruit effect” means that outlawing the substance may actually add to its allure for drug takers. For consumers the fact that a drug is prohibited arguably advertises its potency.

As John Meadowcroft has pointed out, prohibition “makes risky behaviour even more risky”. A ban will clearly drive meow meow further into the black economy, placing its distribution into the hands of criminal gangs. It will also criminalise otherwise law-abiding users and heighten health risks as the precise contents or quality of the drug are difficult to determine. And while meow meow is not thought to be anything like as addictive as heroin or crack, there is a danger that prohibition will push prices up and encourage users to commit crime to fund their activities. At the very least, significant law enforcement resources will be wasted on a crackdown that achieves little.

The rise in popularity of meow meow presents an opportunity for a change of direction on drugs policy. Rather than banning the substance, policymakers should remove any regulatory barriers that prevent its legal trade. In this way, the criminal element would be driven out, reputable brand names would develop and users would be confident about what they were consuming. This approach could then be rolled out to other illegal drugs such as cannabis, speed and ecstasy.

6 thoughts on “Banning “meow meow” would be counterproductive”

  1. Posted 17/03/2010 at 12:51 | Permalink

    Someone should read Stan Cohen’s classic study “Folk Devils and Moral Panics.”

    Politicians won’t read it or acknowledge. Moral panics divert attention from the real problems such as the economy, growing unemployment, banking regulation, unnecessary deaths from alcohol and cancer.

    Against those roaring giants of problems methadone is an insignificant whimper. No wonder it is called meow, meow!

    What is the point in opening a new front in the ‘war on drugs’ when the war is shown to be an expensive abject failure?

  2. Posted 17/03/2010 at 13:02 | Permalink

    I totally agree.

    Prohibition will just increase any problems.

    One report of the tragedy of the two lads mentions that it was CONTAMINATED MCAT.

    To ban something due to deaths from contaminated sources is just plain irrational. Banning it will increase, not decrease the chances of contaminated sources.

  3. Posted 18/03/2010 at 10:22 | Permalink

    Until a week or so ago I’d never heard of this drug and nor had Lord Mandelson, I guess. As Jack says, a moral panic. Politicians’ knees jerk at anything like this, it’s absolutely pathetic. Do you remember Chris Morris’s (”The Day Today”) famous spoof, where he invented an imaginary drug – I think he called it “cake” – and got all sorts of half-wit politicians and quarter-wit celebrities to be filmed denouncing the evils of the thing?

    Meow-meow? I’d sooner take the advice of my cat on this than that of Grayling or Mandelson.

  4. Posted 18/03/2010 at 14:18 | Permalink

    The calls for prohibitions following a tragedy usually ignore the fact that the tragedy could also have happened with the proposed prohibitions in place.
    The same happened after the Winnenden school killing spree. Politicians quickly called for banning all types of handguns, ignoring the fact that the lad was 16 years old and thus already prohibited to have a gun.

  5. Posted 18/03/2010 at 14:47 | Permalink

    Richard, why don’t they ban joining the British Army?

    It attracts lots of young people through its glamourous image, and yet hundreds die each year by joining the British Army, usually alone, in great pain, and with their arms and legs blown off, in desolate remote foreign fields, usually after having their dreams shattered by the drug of patriotism.

    Surely this provides enough grounds for banning self-interested pushers from selling army careers to impressionable teenagers?

  6. Posted 19/03/2010 at 13:49 | Permalink

    Jack M. – There does seem to be a rather inconsistent approach towards risk within government, to say the least!

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