British Home Minister Alan Johnson told parliament on Tuesday that the government will seek to ban the synthetic stimulant mephedrone by April 16. The announcement comes after the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) recommended last Friday that the drug be placed under the purview of the Misuse of Drugs Act.
The ACMD called for mephedrone to be scheduled as a Class B drug, with penalties of up to five years in prison for possession and 14 years for sales. Other Class B drugs include marijuana, amphetamines, and Ritalin.
Johnson also announced an immediate ban on the importation of the drug. It had been imported to Great Britain for sale as a plant fertilizer.
Mephedrone is derived from cathinone, the psychoactive ingredient in khat, the herb chewed in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Khat produces a mild euphoric high similar to that from a couple of cups of expresso, but users have likened mephedrone's effects to those of cocaine or ecstasy. It has exploded in popularity in Britain in the past year, where it is known under a number of nicknames, including M-Cat and meow meow.
About two dozen deaths where mephedrone use was implicated have been reported so far in Britain, but it is unclear whether mephedrone itself caused any of those deaths. But that hasn't stopped prohibitionists from responding as they do to any new drug: Ban it!
That response doesn't sit well with former ACMD head Professor David Nutt, who was sacked last year following repeated criticism of the government for ignoring the group's recommendations and favoring politics over science in making drug policy. In an interview with the Evening Standard, Nutt called for "some sort of regulated use for MDMA or mephedrone where people, maybe in clubs, could have access to small amounts, safe amounts under guidance".
Such a policy would "probably be safer than what we're doing at the moment," he said. "For me, as a father with four children, aged 18 to 26, the drug that I know could kill my kids is alcohol. It is the drug that has caused the most damage to my kids' generation," he explained.
Nutt also criticized the ACMD for jumping on the ban bandwagon. "The ACMD could say that one confirmed death is enough evidence to make mephedrone a controlled drug, or they could say they believe in the precautionary principle, but neither of those is scientific and if they do go down that route then they will have lost scientific credibility. It is an open question whether mephedrone is more or less harmful than MDMA. We really don't know, but I would say that they are probably similar," Nutt added.
Meanwhile, street dealers are stocking up on meow meow in anticipation of price increases under the looming prohibition regime.