Mephedrone was being sold for as much as £3,000 per kilo yesterday afternoon by distributors of the "legal high", as demand peaked in the hours before an official ban came into effect.
From today the previously legal amphetamine-like substance is a Class B drug. Anyone caught in possession of it risks a five-year sentence and dealers could face up to 14 years in jail.
Legal distributors of mephedrone, which was usually advertised as plant feed or bath salt, have known about the impending ban for two weeks since it was announced by the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson.
The ban was brought in following a string of deaths of young people believed to have used the drug, although no direct link to cause of death has been established.
The Local Government Association has been asking retailers to voluntarily hand over stocks of the white powder to avoid prosecution, but many distributors chose to sell off their stock instead.
There are fears that much of the mephedrone currently in Britain will have entered into the hands of drug dealers who will continue to peddle it illegally on the streets, often cut with other chemicals to reduce purity and cost.
One distributor, who had been selling mephedrone legally, told The Independent that he had offloaded most of his remaining stock to a single buyer earlier in the week. Asked if he knew whether the buyer was a drug dealer, the distributor said: "Well, he won't be using it to feed plants, will he?"
Some websites, which until last night had been legal distributors, were also advertising bulk sales this week. MrMeph.com was advising customers to "order now before the ban" and was offering one kilo for £2,999.99.
When The Independent phoned Dial a Drone, a London-based service that used to sell mephedrone to people in the capital, we were initially put through to an answering machine advising that customers should leave a name, telephone number and their nearest Tube station.
A later phone call was picked up by a man who declined to give his name but explained: "We've finished and we've now stopped selling mephedrone. We respect any law that is passed in this country. We've never advocated the use of mephedrone for human consumption but what people decide to do with it is up to them."
Asked what his thoughts were on the ban, he replied: "What will now happen is that a whole load of new substances will come on to the market that will make mephedrone look very tame in comparison. Banning it is very short-sighted but the law is the law and we will abide by it."
Another recent mephedrone seller, who runs the Drift Headshop in Edinburgh but would not give his name, said criminal gangs had already moved in on the mephedrone market in recent weeks.
"We stopped selling mephedrone for a lot of reasons, really," he said. "Pressure from the police, they were giving me grief, I can't get into too many details but there were gangs and gangsters and dealers getting angry because [selling it] takes away from their trade. We had trouble from gangs."
Police forces up and down the country have been offering amnesties for mephedrone sellers before the ban comes into effect. Advice issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers has told officers to concentrate on arresting dealers, but equally warns anyone in possession of the Class B drug that they still run the risk of prosecution and a criminal record.
"We have no intention of criminalising young people who may be in possession of this drug," a spokesperson said. "However that does not mean that anyone caught with this drug in their possession for their own use will be ignored by police."Reuse content