A blanket ban on so-called legal highs has come into force in the UK. The production, distribution, sale and supply of so-called legal highs, or new psychoactive substances, became illegal as of midnight on Wednesday 25 May 2016.
Designed to give users the same effect as illegal drugs like amphetamines and cannabis, legal highs were linked to more than 100 deaths in the UK last year and a rise in violent prison assaults. The blanket ban on legal highs outlaws the trade in new psychoactive substances, sold under names such as spice and black mamba, across England and Wales.
Nitrous oxide (laughing gas), salvia, and other substances that affect a “person’s mental functioning or emotional state by stimulating or depressing their nervous system” will also banned under the new legislation. The last official crime survey figures estimated that more than 937,000 people in England and Wales had used a legal high at some time and that 279,000 of those were in the last year.
The new law is widely expected to have the biggest impact on “head shops” and other traders, who will stop selling legal highs rather than risk prosecution. Possession by individuals will not be a criminal offence. Although the ban has been welcome by many, some quarters have voiced concerns that it could lead to legal highs going undergoing, being sold on the ‘dark web’, and stretching police forces further still.
The mother of County Down teenager Adam Owens, 17, who died last year after taking legal highs was one prominent voice who welcomed the new legislation. Adele Wallace, told the BBC that a small amount of a legal high had been enough to kill her son. “It was 1.5 grams which is not a vast amount – if you’re buying them online it usually starts at three grams and upwards,” she said.
“It was bought off a drug dealer, local, and that was shared between three – himself and two other youths. So it wasn’t a vast amount between the three, smoked, and that shared was enough to kill my child that night,” she added.
However, the Local Government Association told the Guardian their concerns that legal highs could now be pushed underground and required extra policing resources. “We are aware of the risk that the sale of psychoactive substances will now move on to the ‘dark web’ – a network of untraceable online activity and hidden websites – and would welcome the government putting additional resources into tackling the online threat,” said Simon Blackburn of the LGA.
A spokesperson from the drugs think tank Transform added: “This act will end head shop sales, so politicians will have their visible PR success, but the markets will simply shift to unregulated street and online sales, increasing health risks and crime. Similar bans haven’t worked in Ireland, where use has risen to the highest in Europe, or in Poland, where poisonings from these drugs have increased.”
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