Possession of nitrous oxide will be illegal from 8 November, the Home Office has announced.
It will become a class C substance, which means that ‘repeat serious users’ could face up to two years in prison, the government states, while dealers could be jailed for up to 14 years.
The secondary legislation also means that anyone in possession of nitrous oxide for the intention of inhaling it could face an unlimited fine, a caution – which would appear on their criminal record – or a ‘visible’ community punishment.
The ban was first proposed in the government’s Anti-social behaviour action plan, published in March (https://www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/government-bans-nitrous-oxide/), and is part of a ‘zero tolerance approach’ to anti-social behaviour. The move comes despite the ACMD advising the government not to implement a ban, as the harms associated with nitrous oxide are ‘not commensurate with control under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971’ (https://www.drinkanddrugsnews.com/acmd-advises-government-not-to-ban-nitrous-oxide/).
The ACMD’s report recommended that nitrous oxide remain under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, but warned that regulating it under the Misuse of Drugs Act would put ‘disproportionate burdens’ on its legitimate use across a range of industries and sectors.
Anyone with a legitimate reason for possessing nitrous oxide – such as catering businesses or maternity wards – will be exempt from the ban, the government stresses. However, there is also a responsibility on legitimate producers and suppliers to ‘not be reckless’ and make sure people have a legitimate reason to buy it, it adds. ‘Turning a blind eye will be committing an offence.’
Use of nitrous oxide is linked to ‘intimidating gatherings on high streets and in children’s parks, often leaving empty canisters scattered across public spaces’, the government states, while heavy regular use carries health risks including nerve damage and paralysis.
‘We are delivering on the promise we made to take a zero-tolerance approach towards antisocial behaviour and flagrant drug taking in our public spaces,’ said crime and policing minister Chris Philp.
‘Abuse of nitrous oxide is also dangerous to people’s health and today we are sending a clear signal to young people that there are consequences for misusing drugs. Both users and dealers will face the full force of the law for their actions.’