Plan for temporary bans on 'legal highs'

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Indy Politics

Swifter government action is needed to tackle the problems posed by legal highs, a Home Office minister said today.

Powers for year-long bans that can be put in place quickly will help take new substances off the market while a comprehensive review of their potential harm is carried out, crime prevention minister James Brokenshire said.

It comes after the legal high Ivory Wave was blamed for the death of chef Michael Bishton, 24, whose body was found in the sea in Whitecliff Bay, near Bembridge, Isle of Wight, on Saturday.

In a separate development, ministers are also said to be considering withdrawing benefits from drug addicts who refuse treatment.

The Home Office is reportedly asking for views on whether there should be some form of "financial benefit sanction" for claimants who do not address their drug or alcohol dependency.

Ivory Wave is sold legally for about £15 a packet and is advertised as relaxing bath salts.

But the product has become popular as a legal alternative to illicit drugs.

Mr Bishton's girlfriend Sammy Betts, 21, said he had started to become paranoid at his mother's home after taking the substance.

Outlining plans to introduce the temporary bans by the end of next year, Mr Brokenshire said: "The drugs market is changing and we need to adapt current laws to allow us to act more quickly.

"The temporary ban allows us to act straight away to stop new substances gaining a foothold in the market, and help us tackle unscrupulous drug dealers trying to get round the law by peddling dangerous chemicals to young people."

But he added that anyone tempted to try a legal high "must understand it is not safe or sensible to take a substance when you do not know what it is or what is in it - especially when some are claimed to be pond cleaner or bath salts".

The ban will send a clear message to users that these substances carry a risk and will prevent new chemicals becoming widely available, the Home Office said.

Under the proposals, police will be able to confiscate suspected substances and the UK Border Agency will seize shipments entering the country.

Anyone caught supplying a banned substance will face a maximum 14-year jail sentence and an unlimited fine.

But possession for personal use would not be deemed a criminal offence in a bid "to prevent the unnecessary criminalisation of young people", the Home Office said.

It said there was clear evidence that substances advertised as new drugs, including Ivory Wave, often contained drugs, such as mephedrone, which are already banned and known to be harmful.

The new system would allow a faster response as new substances come to light, the Home Office said.

Plans for the temporary bans were included in the Government's coalition document.

Giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee last month, Home Secretary Theresa May said legal highs were the "next battle" in the fight against drugs.

"One of the problems is the speed with which these drugs are coming through," she said.

"That's why we do want to introduce the possibility of a temporary ban."

Martin Barnes, chief executive of DrugScope, said the proposal should help authorities respond "to new or emerging substances that are currently seemingly beyond reach".

"The proposals to institute temporary bans should enable action to be taken more quickly if health concerns are raised following the emergence of new drugs into the UK," he said.

"The measures would allow the ACMD due time to gather evidence on the harms posed by any new drug, to make a considered decision over whether it should be permanently classified and if so, what class it should be placed in."