The government is to introduce a blanket ban on ‘legal highs’, as announced in last month’s Queen’s Speech. The Psychoactive Substances Bill will ‘prohibit and disrupt’ the production, distribution and supply of all new psychoactive substances (NPS).
The legislation will be UK-wide, and will include powers to both seize and destroy NPS as well as to ‘search persons, premises and vehicles’. The blanket ban means that the authorities will no longer need to take a substance-by-substance approach to NPS, more than 500 of which have been banned already.
The new laws, which will also extend to nitrous oxide, are likely to effectively spell the end of the high street ‘head shop’, and offences detailed in the bill will carry a maximum sentence of seven years. Once the legislation is passed, it will be an offence to produce, import, supply or possess with intent to supply ‘any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect’, although substances such as caffeine, alcohol and tobacco will be exempt.
‘The landmark bill will fundamentally change the way we tackle new psychoactive substances – and put an end to the game of cat and mouse in which new drugs appear on the market more quickly than government can identify and ban them,’ said crime minister Mike Penning. ‘The blanket ban will give police and other law enforcement agencies greater powers to tackle the reckless trade in psychoactive substances, instead of having to take a substance-by-substance approach.’
The announcement has met with a mixed response, with Transform accusing the government of ceding control to ‘those on the wrong side of the law’ and Release executive director Niamh Eastwood describing the bill as ‘full blown regression’.
The Local Government Association (LGA), however, said that an outright ban would enable trading standards officers to protect the public from ‘devastating consequences’ by closing down head shops, while Addaction chief executive Simon Antrobus said that, although the government was right to clarify the ‘legal grey area’ around the sale of NPS, ‘we mustn’t kid ourselves that this legislation is enough to address the harm caused by these substances’. Any regulatory measures would need to be backed up by a ‘renewed focus on education, support, advice and specialist treatment’, he stated.