New legal highs law: '˜Our hands were tied until now'
New legislation has come into force to punish those selling formerly legal highs as part of a government crackdown.
The psychoactive substances are now illegal under a new law, and anyone caught selling or dealing the substances could face up to seven years in prison.
Formerly legal highs mimic the effects of controlled drugs like cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy.
Police say teenagers as young as 12 have been buying the substances online, and in so-called highstreet ‘headshops’, which previously avoided prosecution because of a loophole in the law.
But at midnight last Wednesday the Psychoactive Substances Act came into force outlawing the sales of the substances.
DC Jamie Hudson, West Yorkshire Police’s drug expert, said: “The number of substances coming into the country has steadily grown each year and so has the number of crimes.
“This is why the government implemented this new law, the police’s hands have been tied until now.
“It means we can now tackle the supply, production and distribution of legal highs, across West Yorkshire.
“A lot of money is being made from selling these substances to vulnerable people.
“Now we can say ‘stop selling it, or you’ll be arrested’.
“The ultimate aim is to protect the public and we are not naive enough to think it will stop it all together but it stops people being able to go into a shop and buy it.”
The UK is the biggest consumer of formerly legal highs in the EU.
The equivalent of two new substances every week were coming in to the country last year.
As a result of the increase of substances being introduced, DC Hudson said crime related to their use has risen.
Since the law was introduced last week, officers have attended dozens of so called ‘head shops’ and either ordered owners to stop selling the substances or seized them.
DC Hudson said: “Where there is one of these shops, you always have anti-social behaviour.
“It is linked to crimes like anti-social behaviour, criminal damage, violence, sexual assaults and now even organised crime.
“These shops are selling mind-altering psychoactive substances, where you could buy things that make you hallucinate. And from the same shop you could buy a sword or an axe and potentially run amok while hallucinating.”
The launch of the new law comes four years after West Yorkshire Police started the Operation Nightshot campaign.
The campaign, which aims to crackdown on the sale of the substances, has been running with partners of the force to raise awareness of the potential dangers of using legal highs.
Last week officers seized 94 canisters of nitrous oxide - commonly known as laughing gas - from a shop in Leeds as part of the crackdown.
The new law applies to both shops and websites but there is currently no personal possession offence.
Substances such as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, food and medical products, are be excluded from the ban.
Anyone who has information about suppliers of the substances or their misuse should contact police on 101.
People can also report information anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Talk To Frank offers free confidential advice and information about drugs.
Local councils and NHS services also offer advice and support to anyone affected by drug use.
Visit www.talktofrank.com for more information.