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The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016

New Legislation on Legal Highs in the UK - 26th May 2016

On the 26th of May 2016, the government rolled out a blanket ban on legal highs in the UK. These new laws, under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, have criminalised the production, distribution, sale and supply of new psychoactive substances.

Legal highs, according to The Independent (2016) "can be incredibly potent, and some have described them as being worse than heroin". The article also suggests that that these laws have come into place due to 'huge pressure' on the government with 'legal highs in 2013 being tried by 670,000 British 15 to 24-year-olds'.

Under the new laws, offenders will face sentences of up to seven years in prison, and police now have powers to seize and destroy psychoactive substances, close 'head shops' (selling drug paraphenalia), and issue on the spot fines.

However, many experts have warned that the new laws will be unenforceable, and that criminal convictions will be extremely difficult to secure due to the ever changing nature of these legal highs.

With 'head shops' closing, experts predict that much of the trade will move ever more underground with the dark web and street sellers picking up the demand. Furthermore, The Guardian (2016) likened the ban to similar legislation in Ireland, where 'there have been few prosecutions so far because of difficulties in proving whether a substance is psychoactive'.

Under the new laws, it must be proven that the substances will cause a psychoactive effect in humans before an offender can be prosecuted. This has lead many experts to label the ban as "unworkable", as the primary method of testing for these effects is though in-vitro chemical reactions, which according to a quote in The Independent (2016) "do not provide the certainty required to get a legitimate criminal conviction".

Another quote from The Independent states that 'with new legal highs now hitting European streets at an estimated rate of at least 100 a year, (there are doubts that) the UK ban would be able to keep pace', and adds 'the principal issue of proving psychoactivity will be fraught with difficulty'.


To download this legislation document, click here

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