TNI/IDPC Expert Seminar on Herbal Stimulants and Legal Highs

24 January 2012

A grey area has emerged between what is legal and what is not as states struggle with how to respond to the many new synthetic compounds emerging onto the market.

Of the various types of 'Legal highs' the seminar focused on stimulants because of the parallels with the other main drug-policy issue of the moment; i.e. the status of traditional herbal stimulants. These older discussions have been reinvigorated by: Bolivia's efforts to de-schedule coca-lead at UN level; the debates on the status of khat between EU States, and of krater across Asia; and the increasing stride of legitimate cannabis use on the domestic front, as in for example Spain. It was hoped that it would be constructive to look at each of these phenomena through the prism of the other. This approach was also considered appropriate because there are shared characteristics between the synthetic and herbal stimulants markets (i.e. they tend to be more recreational) as compared with psychedelics.

The seminar aimed to consider the legal responses of various jurisdictions to these issues and the lessons that can be drawn. Specific attention was to be directed at whether traditional criminal justice models suit legal highs or whether medicines law or other types of legal framework would be more appropriate. Broadening out to a policy-perspective, the seminar sought discussion of strategies to diminish the dominance of the concentrated and more harmful stimulant substances and steer the market towards milder forms. Whether or not, to this end, milder substances should be made licit and available, was an issue put directly on the table.

The Expert Seminar on Herbal Stimulants and Legal highs was an initiative of the Transnational Institute ('TNI') working together with the International Drug Policy Consortium ('IDPC') and funded by the European Commission and the Open Society Institute. The Seminar took place in Amsterdam on 30-31st October 2011.

The seminar is the fourth in a series of expert discussions on drug policy designed to feed into moments of opportunity for policy and law reform at national and international level with detailed technical analysis. This seminar was timed to maximises the opportunities presented by Bolivia's efforts to de-schedule coca leaf at UN level and the European Commission's intent to create legislative framework of control for herbal stimulants and Legal highs.

Four subjects were covered over the course of the day;

  • Market Dynamics
  • Herbal Stimulants
  • Legal Control Mechanisms
  • EU Strategies on New Substances

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