Possession of nitrous oxide, ‘where a person intends to wrongfully inhale it for a psychoactive effect’, is now illegal.
The substance is now a class C drug, which means possession could result in an ‘unlimited fine, a visible community punishment, a caution (which would appear on their criminal record) and for repeat serious offenders, a prison sentence’, the Home Office states. The maximum sentence for ‘production, supply importation or exportation of the drug for unlawful purposes’, meanwhile, has doubled – from seven to 14 years in prison.
The ban – which forms part of the government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan – has been enacted despite the ACMD advising against it, as the harms associated with nitrous oxide were ‘not commensurate with control under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (DDN, November, page 4). Possession of nitrous oxide will still be permitted for those with a legitimate reason, such as maternity wards – where it is used for pain relief –or the catering and industrial sectors, the government states. While licences will not be required for legitimate use, individual users will need to demonstrate they are lawfully in possession of nitrous oxide and not ‘intending to wrongfully inhale it’, it says.
‘Today we are sending a clear signal to people, especially young people, that not only is abuse of nitrous oxide dangerous to their health, but it is also illegal and those caught possessing it will face consequences,’ said crime and policing minister Chris Philp. ‘For too long the use of this drug in public spaces has contributed to anti-social behaviour which is a blight on communities. We will not accept it. This law gives the police the powers they need to take a zero-tolerance approach to this crime.’
The ban was ‘another sign of the ever-increasing punitive and carceral approach to drug policy that characterises the UK government,’ said Release. ‘Not only is there no political opposition, there is complicity from Labour and industry with this ridiculous decision.’