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UK blanket ban on 'legal highs'

Press AssociationPress Association 23/05/2016

A law banning so-called legal highs comes into force in Britain this week with some fearing it will drive dealers to the "dark web".

The substances, which mimic the effects of traditional drugs such as ecstasy and cannabis, are being outlawed amid concerns they have been linked to deaths and are fuelling anti-social behaviour.

Commander Simon Bray, the National Police Chiefs Council's lead on new psychoactive substances, said those determined to get hold of the drugs might turn to illicit websites.

But he said the new law will mean Britons can no longer stroll into a "headshop" and buy mind altering drugs "in a normal transaction - like going into Boots the chemist".

The dark web is a largely untraceable area of the internet which does not show up on traditional search engines and had been used by criminal gangs who trade in drugs, guns and forged documents.

The blanket ban on legal highs has been branded unscientific and its implementation has been delayed by more than a month amid concerns it is unenforceable.

Ireland introduced a similar law five years ago.

But while headshops openly selling the drugs closed down, use of the substances has increased and there have been relatively few prosecutions because of the difficulty of proving in court that a substance is psychoactive.

Experts have warned Britain will encounter the same difficulties and the ban will just drive use and sale of the drugs underground and into the hands of criminal gangs.

Commander Bray said a survey of legal high users showed "the average age was surprisingly high - 40 plus - and some of them were definitely professionals" including accountants and City workers.

Under the ban it is a crime to supply a psychoactive substances and offenders face a maximum of seven years in prison.

But individuals who possess the drug for personal use will not be criminalised.

A string of famous footballers have been photographed inhaling what appears to be nitrous oxide - a legal high dubbed laughing gas or hippy crack.

Bray said that while this would still not be a crime under the new law, he hoped sports stars who are role models would change their behaviour and refrain from taking the substances publicly.

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