Psychoactive Substances Act BANNING legal highs comes into force today

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New legislation has come under fire from many within the legal profession

Instagram (injoyeletro)
Instagram (injoyeletro)

The hotly discussed and highly controversial Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 has officially come into force today (26 May).

The legislation — which ministers hope will address the growing problem of ‘legal highs’ — will enforce a blanket ban on their production, distribution, sale and supply. Until today these highs were legal because they weren’t covered under existing law.

Initially trumpeted by the government late last year, the act has come under intense fire from members of the legal profession, who are worried the legislation focuses on the effect of the substance, as opposed to what it actually contains. With lawyers warning that the new act is – among other things — far too vague, legal commentator David Allen Green, speaking to BuzzFeed last year, said:

Prohibitions need to be precise: You need to know whether you are inside or outside the scope of the prohibition so you can regulate your conduct.

Other critics have even suggested that legal high related deaths might even increase as a result of the act’s introduction. With shops no longer able to stock the highs legally, selling substances such as “spice” will be left to less scrupulous drug dealers who will attempt to get customers hooked on damaging and profitable drugs such as heroin and crack.

On a slightly more positive note, for lawyers anyway, legal affairs journalist Joshua Rozenberg — penning an article exclusively for the Legal Cheek Journal earlier this year — suggested the new act could become a “fruitful ground for litigation” for lawyers. But Rozenberg also had his reservations, he said:

When the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 was passed, it was possible for parliament to specify, accurately, the substances it outlawed. Now, a new drug can be synthesised more quickly than an old one can be defined. So those who drafted the new legislation have chosen to define their targets by what they do rather than by what they are. And that’s where the problems start.

The act will provide tough new custodial sentences for offenders of up to 7 years, and police will also gain new powers to seize and destroy legal highs and shutdown stores that sell drug paraphernalia known as “headshops”.