By Felix Marwick
There are issues politicians love at election time, and then there are those that make their sphincters clench. The pursed bottom-cheek issues generally tend to be ones of conscience. The ones that determine whether a Member of Parliament takes a stand on what they genuinely believe is right or, are cowed by the fear of being on the wrong side of public opinion.
Drug laws, particularly those around the use of synthetic cannabis-type substances are the perfect example of this. They profoundly demonstrate what happens when political self-interest and expert advice collide. It's like being in a port-a-loo that's been kicked over at a rock concert. Howls of outrage and a stinking bloody mess.
Because that's exactly where we're at with the synthetic cannabis issue right now. People are dying on our streets at the hands of underworld villains who are peddling poison to those hooked on a habit.
The real tragedy is that circumstances got to where they did. Between 2010 and 2014 Parliament vacillated from one position to another on these drugs and ended up with a solution that's been of no use or value to anyone.
In 2011 all such substances were banned as the Government looked to come up with a new approach that would see them subject to tests and regulation. In early 2014 they ended up back on the shelves again when the Psychoactive Substances Act came into force.
Then came the public and political backlash. Once legitimised these drugs were fully in the public eye and the public didn't like them, nor those that sold them. That sent our politicians to scurrying back again to change the laws and, in a way that only politicians can, they came up with a solution that was no solution at all. They imposed a requirement that all such drugs would have to be clinically proven to be safe before they could be sold but set the testing regime up so that it did not include animal testing.
Now, at an animal welfare level that was great news for rabbits. But in terms of having a testing regime where such drugs could be effectively tested it was an utter, and predictable, failure.
So here we are three years having the same debate all over again. Dangerous drugs are being pushed illegally with criminals benefiting and users dying - and our politicians' half baked solutions have to carry a large dose of the blame.