Clergy warn burning incense could be made illegal under proposed legislation to tackle 'legal highs'

Under the Psychoactive Substances Bill, anything capable of 'stimulating or depressing a person's central nervous system' could face up to seven years in prison

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Burning incense could be made a criminal offence under proposed legislation designed to tackle so-called “legal highs”, leading clergy have warned.

Cathedral deans and ecclesiastical legal advisers are concerned the offences outlined in the Psychoactive Substances Bill are so broadly defined that they could cover incense, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Under the Bill, dealers of the anything capable of “stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system” or affecting “the person’s mental functioning or emotional state” could face up to seven years in prison.

There is a list of exempt substances, such as coffee and alcohol, which does not include incense. A scientific study once found it can have a small effect on the mood of mice.

The Association of English Cathedrals and the Churches’ Legislation Advisory Service have both raised the potential problem with the House of Commons’ Home Affairs Select Committee.

“We wouldn’t want to see clergy committing illegal acts simply by carrying on something which the Church has been doing for 2,000 years and indeed something the Egyptians used two-and-a-half thousand years BC,” the Dean of Wakefield, the Very Rev Jonathan Greener, said.

“We think it is an oversight but we wanted to alert them to it before it became law and we had to campaign for a change in the law.

“We’ve made this representation to try to make it one of the legitimate exceptions.”

The Association of English Cathedrals said: “Incense has an important symbolic role; the smoke represents the presence of God, prayers rising to God, and the offering of gifts and lives as a sacrifice to God.

“Incense is used to enhance the worship experience, and no longer being able to use it would have an adverse impact on the conduct of worship.”

The Home Office said it was unlikely incense would be affected as the proposed law covers the “intentional” use of a substance “for its psychoactive effects”.