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Blanket Ban on Sale of Legal Highs

It is fair to say that the term “legal highs” is now inaccurate given that they are no longer legal. But what are these substances and why have they been banned?

The Psychoactive Substances Act prohibits the sale of psychoactive substances from Midnight on 26th May 2016. Under the new law, Producers and Sellers of these substances could now face up to 7 years imprisonment.

The legislation follows a number of high profile deaths and injuries linked to the taking of these substances which include things like laughing gas.

Many scientists warn that the side effects from taking “legal highs” can be as damaging as taking controlled drugs, such as Heroin. It is also said to be responsible for an increasing number of arrests. A synthetic cannabis-type drug called “spice” is particularly common with homeless people and those serving prison sentences because it is readily available and much cheaper than other controlled drugs. Psychoactive substances contain various chemical ingredients which have not been tested for safety and when mixed or taken with alcohol, the risks can be increased.

What is classed as a prohibited substance, however, is not clear. Whilst a controlled drug could be clearly identified under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, anything could be classed as a psychoactive substance provided it is “capable of stimulating or depressing the central nervous system, affecting the person’s mental functioning or emotional state”. Whilst substances such as alcohol, tobacco and caffeine are expressly exempted from the Act, the definition is still broad.


The police are enforcing the new legislation vigorously. In Greater Manchester, two people were arrested the day before the ban was introduced after nine people were admitted to hospital after taking legal highs from the same shop in Rochdale. The ban has taken many by surprise, leaving some legitimate businesses with stock that they cannot now sell, leading to a potential flooding of the black market as people attempt to minimise their losses.

Following the implementation of the new act, it is now an offence to produce, import and supply what where previously legal substances. It is also now an offence to possess these substances in prison. The offences are aggravated if it is found to have been sold or supplied to anyone under 18.

Defences are available, however, if it can be satisfied that an individual or business is carrying out an Exempted Activity, as defined by the Act.

The police also have ancillary powers to make applications to a Magistrates Court to close and prohibit the sale of legal highs from premises without the need to charge anyone with criminal offences, provided a notice has been served on a proprietor or it is deemed likely that a notice would not be complied with.

If you have been arrested under the new legislation or your business is subject to a prohibition or premises notice and want advice or assistance, please call us on                       0808 168 5550 or email and we will call or email you back.

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