Cmdr Simon Bray Blog: Legal highs? Not as legal as you thought - 26 May 2016
So called “legal-highs” might have been sold in shops but that doesn’t mean they’re safe. Often they contain one or more substance that is illegal to possess and users really have no idea what they are taking or what effect it will have. The future health risks associated with psychoactive substances are unknown and in some cases people have died from taking these drugs.
Until now the reality of dealing with new psychoactive substances or “legal-highs” has been complex. As soon as a substance was classified and banned a minor chemical change would be made which then made it legal again. Police, government and health services have faced real challenges in preventing the harm these substances can cause. Often officers would find a packet of white powder and couldn’t be sure it was a controlled drug or a "legal high".
The Psychoactive Substances Act introduced today changes this. It introduces a “blanket ban” on the production, supply and importation of any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect. Simply put, it will fundamentally change the way forces tackle psychoactive substances and will make new drugs that appear on the market illegal quicker than ever before. It will make it harder to buy untested and harmful substances and simpler to deal with drugs that are unsafe but may not yet be controlled.
In recent months, officers across the country have been working closely with local authorities and trading standards to make sure suppliers are aware of the changes and have the opportunity to remove these products from their stores.
Officers now have more options available to police psychoactive substances with a proportionate and common sense approach using warnings, notices, court orders, as well as powers of arrest or summons. The maximum sentence for supply is seven years’ imprisonment.
While the new Act does not make simple possession illegal, it is an offence to possess psychoactive substances with the intent to supply them to anyone. By sharing these drugs with friends a user has not only put them at risk, they could also face legal consequences.
Officers can enter and search premises, vehicles and vessels in accordance with a warrant, and seize and destroy psychoactive substances. There is a risk that the trade could go underground or onto the dark web so we are working with internet providers to shut down websites trading in these potentially dangerous drugs.
As a service we are committed to reducing the harm caused by all drugs and psychoactive substances are no exception. I understand that we can’t do this alone; prevention, education and health services all have a crucial role to play.
I am confident that together we now have the powers needed to reduce the harm caused by psychoactive substances - and we are determined to do so.