New legislation to help tackle 'legal highs'

26 May 2016 14:16 PM

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New legislation to help police forces prevent harm caused by 'legal highs' will be implemented today (26 May).

The psychoactive substances act will provide a blanket ban on the production, supply and importation of new psychoactive substances.

This legislation will change the way police tackle psychoactive substances and will make new drugs that appear on the market illegal quicker than ever before.

A variety of options exist in enforcing this legislation including prohibition notices, premises notices, prohibition orders and premises orders which allow police or local authorities to require people to stop stocking, selling or supplying psychoactive substances. 

Officers have been given powers to stop and search people, vehicles and vessels, enter and search premises in accordance with a warrant, and to seize and destroy psychoactive substances.

While the new act does not criminalise simple possession of psychoactive substances it will be an offence to posses them within custodial institutions, or anywhere with intent to supply them to another.  It is also an offence to import them (eg by buying them from a foreign website).

Recently, a number of operations have been carried out across Newcastle to tackle legal highs and activity carried out by police and partners, including North East Ambulance Service and Newcastle City Council, to raise awareness around the dangers legal highs pose. 

Central Area Command Chief Inspector David Pickett said: "This new psychoactive substances legislation is another tool for ourselves and our partners to use to help combat and tackle the problem of legal highs and gives us increased powers to help us take action where it matters most. 

"Here in Newcastle we've been working closely together as a partnership to tackle the issue through education and enforcement for a while now and the introduction of this new act will hopefully support and enhance this hard work and help us in solving the problem and making Newcastle city centre an even safer place.

"Although this legislation should send a loud, legal and criminal warning out about legal highs the most serious message is definitely one of health and personal safety.

"No matter what any shop owner or dealer says or what any packaging claims -  there is no way to know exactly what is in these 'legal highs' or what effect it will have on your body. By taking them you are playing roulette with your life and we will not stand-by and allow this to happen in our city. Our joint work to protect people and rid our city of these horrible and dangerous substances will continue."

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Vera  Baird, said: "Time and time again I have been raising the matter of so-called legal highs with the Home Office – appealing for much stronger action against those who make and sell these products. Finally we have the act I have been waiting for - which will bring an end to the open sale of these harmful and addictive drugs on our streets. 

"I welcome the new powers for law enforcement to tackle this issue, which will be of great benefit to our officers. We’ve been working hard with local partners as part of anti-sociable behaviour clampdowns in Sunderland and as part of a taskforce set up in Newcastle tackling the issue head on.  Good progress is being made – but we’ve still got a way to go.

"These so-called 'legal highs' are not safe – it’s as simple as that and I remain fully committed to ensuring our officers do all they can to eradicate this abhorrent trade. The new tough sentences show how seriously the matter is being taken and we will do all we can to get those responsible before the courts and locked up."

Head of Emergency Care, Douglas McDougall at North East Ambulance Service, said: "We welcome any changes that will prevent people from taking legal highs because they can have a serious impact on the health of the people taking them.  This year alone we have sent an ambulance to over 700 patients who were experiencing serious or life threatening symptoms.  This spike in activity has put pressure on our service and our ability to reach other patients. "

Newcastle City Council has long campaigned against legal highs and cracked down against them in a number of ways since a spike in incidents in January.

Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Regulatory Services, Cllr Nick Kemp, said: "I’m delighted that at last this law has come into force. Legal highs – now very much illegal highs – have been the scourge of our city and many others up and down the country for far too long. These are nasty substances that could now attract jail sentences of up to seven years for their making or supply so I hope anyone involved in them hands them over to the authorities so they can be destroyed.

"While this law is a significant weapon in our armoury it would be naïve to think that legal highs will just vanish and the fear is that they will be driven underground which is why we should all remain vigilant and report any activity to the authorities."



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