'We have too much faith in the law' - Speaking To A Legal High Distributor
If the government gets its way then all legal highs will be banned within the year. With over 250 shops and dozens of websites, Britain is widely perceived as the legal high capital of Europe.
I met with a wholesale supplier gave me his views on the incoming ban and the future of the industry. Ben’s eyes lit up as he recalled his first legal high experience, he took mephedrone at a festival and “was amazed at how powerful it was”. Within three days he was in China meeting manufacturers. Once mephedrone was banned he was suddenly left with a set of skills and an understanding of a market that he decided to carry on with, just with different products.
Mephedrone became illegal in the UK in 2010
At his peak, Ben was supplying 150,000 grams of legal highs to head shops, online retailers and even petrol stations every month. His business model was simple – finding out what is popular on the market, then making it cheaper, stronger and better branded.
“We tried to create our own compounds but it usually ends up being incredibly expensive. One time I remember I sniffed it and nothing happened, and you’re just thinking ‘oh my god’, that’s 20 grand wasted.”
“We work with pharmaceutical companies that have 10,000 employees. Quite regularly you’d don a suit and fly to conferences and rub shoulders with all these pharma giants. When they’re not making AIDS antiretroviral for pharmacies, they are making legal highs for us.”
Ben’s biggest seller is synthetic cannabinoids aka. Spice, which are products people smoke instead of weed, or in some cases heroin. Spice is arguably the most popular legal high but its safety implications – with side effects including psychosis and increased heart rate – are widely questioned.
“Taking two drags on a joint of synthetic cannaboids can sometimes feel like you’ve hit on a bong five or six times. Because there is a lot of competition between the manufacturers, and because people’s tolerance levels are getting higher, we find ourselves in a war of strength where the manufacturers are trying to outdo each other on the potency of their product. [These] super strengths have ultimately led to fatalities and hospitalisations.”
Legal Highs are sold under the pretence that they are not for human consumption, even though everyone knows that they are.
“Some people might ask ‘how can you do this?’ But alcohol kills 2.5million globally per year. There’s all of the problems with alcohol addiction, abuse, family abuse, people abusing their partners, dangerous driving, so many issues in our society all relating back to alcohol, yet nobody ever questions somebody’s morals for opening a pub. We have never had a fatality that we know of related to any of our products.”
So why would people question his morals, but not those of alcohol companies?
“We have too much faith in the law. Often people say that you don’t know what legal highs can do to people’s health, and I usually respond by saying ‘but we do know what alcohol does to us. So what’s worse, a person that sells something without the knowledge of what it’s going to do, or someone that sells something with a guaranteed knowledge that it’s going to harm people?”
“We have pulled very successful, lucrative and profitable products off the market because of concerns regarding public health. We have also destroyed large quantities of stock at an astronomical loss to prevent them reaching the market. I once destroyed £100,000 worth of stock. Gone, just like that.”
I pushed Ben on his own morals and ethics, he took a libertarian stance, claiming to “believe in free choice”. The way he sees it, everyone should be able to enjoy their time on this planet in any way they see fit, providing it doesn’t harm other people.
We drifted onto the pending ban.
“It’s really disappointing to see us taking a step in this direction. It reminds me of Draconian Middle Eastern Laws. I really feel that Portugal has proven that decriminalization leads to less crime, a better society and less addiction. It has been proven that criminalisation does not affect the rate of users. This change of law will have absolutely no benefit to our society, banning things doesn’t work.”
“As much as I am behind all the benefits of people having freedoms, there is the horrible aspect that you can’t educate people. It’s the criminalisation, those controls that are in place, which prevents us from being able to educate people. That leads to fatalities and abuse.”
There may be some good news for those fighting against legal highs. Ben told me that, although most of the authorities are unaware, we are about to see a huge shortage of legal highs in the shops.
“In China there has very recently been a ban on almost every ingredient used in legal highs. That includes the chemicals used to make those ingredients. The biggest companies say that they might have 30 days stock left. We might have run out before Christmas. I haven’t heard of any company that will be able to continue.”
The future of the industry is unclear. What we do know is that it is causing hospitalisations and addiction, but what should the government be doing to help prevent this? Is their looming ban the correct way forward? Or should we be decriminalising all drugs, a strategy Richard Branson suggested the UN felt was the best way forward.
What do you think? Tell us in the comments