Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Newspaper column 27th January 2016 - The Psychoactive Substances Bill

Last week in Parliament saw the Psychoactive Substances Bill successfully negotiate its third reading.  The Bill is likely to come into force as early as April this year and will effectively ban the so-called “legal highs” as it seeks to ban all substances that have a “psychoactive effect”.

During the course of last year I was made aware that substances that provide legal highs are readily available on our high streets.  A few minutes of investigative work proved this to be true, and I was shocked to see how easy it was to buy these substances on the high street in St Austell and Newquay.

While legal highs come with many health warnings and cannot be marketed for human consumption, they were readily available for sale. I was pleased at the time to raise awareness of the dangers of legal highs, which resulted in the withdrawal of their sale in St Austell town centre.

Britain uses more psychoactive substances than any other country in Europe and is at risk of being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of this problem. A countrywide ban as contemplated in the Psychoactive Substances Bill, is the right and sensible next step. 

The Bill will introduce a blanket ban on the production, supply, and possession with the intent to supply, and import and export, of psychoactive substances.   These measures mean that the availability of legal highs will be severely restricted; effectively the supply will be cut.

The Bill is not intended to criminalise those who use legal highs for recreation and therefore simple possession is not an offence under the Bill.  While civil and criminal sanctions are included in the Bill, they are aimed at the larger suppliers of legal highs.

The Bill seeks to shift the boundary between legal and illegal substances, and includes a list of a number of substances that will be explicitly exempted from the controls in the Bill.  These include alcohol, caffeine and nicotine.   The Bill also provides order-making powers for the Secretary of State to add substances to this list.  It is likely that the scope of this legislation will continue to evolve. 

The passage of the Bill has been accompanied by controversy, with the main counter argument being that use of legal highs will continue, but will be forced underground.  While I recognize that this is possible, I believe that the benefits of this Bill outweigh the costs. 

It cannot be right that chemical substances that mimic illegal drugs are readily available on our high streets, and I was therefore happy to support this Bill. 

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