Legal Highs To Become Illegal This Week Under Psychoactive Substances Act
The Debrief: But how are the Government defining a 'psychoactive substance'?
This week legal highs will be banned once and for all. The drugs, many of which mimic the effects of illegal substances like cannabis and ecstasy, are to be taken off the shelf because of concerns about how they affect users’ health and behaviour.
Last week five men collapsed in Rochdale after taking legal highs which go by the name of ‘Annihilation’ and ‘Cherry Bombs’. Both of these are synthetic forms of cannabis, with similar psychoactive properties. One man was left in a medically induced coma in hospital, leading greater Manchester Police to issue a warning over the substances.
The blanket ban on legal highs in England and Wales will come into force at the end of this week, on May 26th under the Psychoactive Substances Act. It was due to be brought into effect last month, but was delayed because of debate about how exactly ‘psychoactive’ should be defined and whether or not this legislation was practical, i.e. whether police would realistically be able to enforce it.
Psychoactive substances are now defined by the government as ‘anything capable of producing a psychoactive effect’. Everyday ‘legitimate psychoactive’ substances which include things you have in your kitchen at home like tea, coffee and alcohol will be exempt from the bank. Poppers (AKA alkyl nitrite), after much debate, will also be exempt. However, there will also be a focus on the sale of solvent-based glues, correction fluids, marker pens, aerosols, anti-freeze and nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas) which are regularly sold in high street shops but can be abused.
Under the Act possession of formerly ‘legal’, now illegal, highs will not be a criminal offence (unless you’re in a prison). However, dealing and selling these substances will be, punishable by up to 7 years in prison.
In a Home Office guide for retailers they define the effective of ‘psychoactive substances’ are including ‘hallucinations, changes in alertness, perception of time and space, mood or empathy with others and drowsiness.’
Critics of the new legislation are warning that this ban could push sales underground, meaning that vulnerable people could be exploited by dealers who will now fill the gap left by legal providers. Others also criticise the exemption of alcohol and state that it is more dangerous than other the substances named in the new legislation. Accprding to the Office for National Statistics there were 8,697 alcohol-related deaths registered in the UK in 2014. That's around , 14.3 deaths for every 100,000 people.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 670,000 15-24 year-olds tried legal highs at least once in 2013. The number of related deaths in England and Northern Ireland rose from 10 in 2009 to 68 in 2012.
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