Charlotte Walsh is Lecturer in Law at Leicester Law School, where she runs a course on Criminology, largely concerned with drug policy. Her research focus is on the interface between psychedelics and the law, viewed from a liberal, human rights-based perspective, and she has published widely on this subject – in journals and edited collections – along with being a regular speaker at psychedelic conferences. She is a member of the ICEERS Legal Advisory Committee and is on the Steering Committee of the Ayahuasca Defense Fund, thus being involved with legal defence work, education and protection, along with advocacy for policy reform.
“Caught in the crossfire: Plant medicines and the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016”
This paper offers a human rights-driven critique of the United Kingdom’s Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 which creates a blanket ban on psychoactive substances. The particular focus here is on the fact that, while the motivation behind this piece of legislation was the perceived need to address the growing phenomenon of new psychoactive substances, the broad definition of what constitutes a psychoactive substance contained therein means that it also includes plant medicines within its ambit. Through a close analysis of the parliamentary debates and related publications leading up to the Act, it is revealed that these were not part of the problem as constructed, and yet have become entangled in this legislative response to it. It is argued that the inclusion of these plants breaches Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects both freedom of thought and religion. It is submitted that the Act
should thus be amended accordingly. In support of this argument, the arbitrary difference in treatment of the psychoactive substances, alcohol and tobacco – exempted from the reach of the Act – is highlighted, as is the process by which alkyl nitrites (poppers) were also (eventually) excluded from the legislation, making the claim that much of the lucid reasoning
underpinning this latter decision could be extrapolated out to plant medicines.