There Was a Laughing-Gas Protest Party Outside Westminster This Weekend
Parliament Square on Saturday looked like a Friday afternoon at BoomTown Fair. Around 80 people had gathered outside the Houses of Parliament to inhale laughing gas in protest against the Tory government's Psychoactive Substances Bill, its foolproof plan to stop people from getting high by banning the sale and supply of "any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect" (except for food, medication, and the taxman's two favorite vices: alcohol and cigarettes). Because if existing drug policy has shown us anything, it's that if you ban people from taking drugs they'll just immediately flush their tabs and pills and fall in line.
The demonstration, organized by campaign groups The Psychedelic Society and the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), wasn't as highly attended as the Facebook page had promised—just over 1,500 were supposedly going to be there—because these things never are; it's a lot easier to click a mouse than venture into central London. Still, as Big Ben chimed at 3:00 PM, there were enough demonstrators seemingly hyperventilating into balloons to confuse all the tourists blocking the streets with their selfie sticks.
Stephen Reid handing out balloons
I spoke to Stephen Reid, the founder and director of the Psychedelic Society, about why they had organized the demonstration. "We accept that legal highs—and drugs in general—carry some risk," he said. "But there are lots of things in society that carry risks, like horse riding, skydiving, bungee jumping, and alcohol. We don't ban these things outright; we let people make their own decisions."
Demonstrators had made banners bearing the slogan #MyMindMyChoice to highlight that very point. Why ban this stuff, they argued, when its use only affects the user?
Problem is, while that may well be the case for the relatively harmless laughing-gas canisters and poppers—both of which are banned under the new bill—it's harder to defend someone's inalienable right to ingest a substance that might kill them.
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