Portsmouth City Council pledged this year to ban all legal highs from the city as concerns mount nationally and locally about their effects. Despite the decision meeting being pushed from October to November, the issue remains high on the agenda for residents and politicians alike.
According to the Local Government Association’s A Councillor’s Guide to Tackling New Psychoactive Substances, Portsmouth is far from alone in its concerns:
“Local perceptions that ‘legal highs’ are a growing problem are backed up by a range of information, much of it from the health sector. Latest figures on the number of deaths related to ‘legal highs’ shows there were 60 in 2013 compared with 10 in 2009. This picture is replicated internationally with other European countries reporting increases in availability and use, with an ever growing number of products being sold. 81 new ‘legal highs’ were identified across the European Union in 2013.”
So, what is the best way to deal with the issue of drugs in Portsmouth?
Exploring this issue on a new political social media platform, GovFaces user Mollie asked local politicians: “Do you believe drug addiction would be better dealt with as a health problem instead of as a crime?”
Flick Drummond, Conservative candidate for Portsmouth South, advocates a mixture of approaches to solving the issue saying in response to the question:
“The government have been commissioning new treatment services to stop addicts to become free of drugs for good. Prison isn’t always the right place to treat people so I will be supporting projects that sort the addiction rather than imprisoning people. Drug dealers must always be put in prison.”
Gerald Vernon-Jackson, former Liberal Democrat candidate for Portsmouth South, said in a video response:
“I think there are two bits to this in terms of personal use. I think the health route is the right way to go, but I think in terms of trading and selling drugs I think that has to remain a criminal thing. But I think there are too many people who end up with a record which then means they cannot get a decent job just because they had a small quantity of something for their personal use.”
You can watch the full response from Gerald Vernon Jackson below.
Kevan Chippindall-Higgin, former UKIP candidate for Portsmouth City Council, Hilsea ward, takes a stronger view:
“No. It is a crime and one moreover based on personal choice. Every individual chose to take the drugs of their own free will and continues so to do. That said, addiction is a health problem in that DIY pharmacology is not a good idea. However, in order to deal with this, all illegal drugs must be dealt with firmly and those addicted be incarcerated for treatment. Drug addiction is also linked to acquisitive crime such as theft and burglary which brings misery to hundreds of thousands up and down the country and frequently destroys lives, especially among the elderly and vulnerable.”
Despite his strident views on other drugs, Mr. Chippindall-Higgin also stated his support for the legalization of medical marijuana:
“Marijuana is currently illegal yet there are doctors who are of the opinion that it can assist in some medical cases. Therefore, it should be legalised like any other drug for properly dispensed medical use. It should remain illegal for use outside prescription parameters like any other drug.”
Yet Mr Chippendall-Higgin’s UKIP colleague and contender in May for Portsmouth South, Steve Harris, does not support legalising marijuana.
“I would not vote for that. Need to look up [what] the UKIP position is, but would still vote against it.”
As councillors continue to review the issue of psychoactive substances in the city, this is a debate set to run for some time.
A version of this article first appeared on GovFaces
Photography by Sarah Cheverton.