Legal highs: Producers may have to prove substances are harmless before they can be sold

Home Office review will assess moves in New Zealand that put the onus on manufacturers to demonstrate their safety

Deputy Political Editor

Rules that would force producers of “legal highs” to obtain licences validating their safety before they can be sold are to be considered by the Home Office as part of a review of Britain’s response to the growing availability of hundreds of designer drugs.

The Home Office will announce a review into Britain’s response to the growing availability of hundreds of “designer drugs”. It will pave the way to fresh legislation, possibly including a licensing system allowing the sale of substances deemed to present no health risk.

Suppliers have been able to side-step the existing drugs legislation by describing their wares as “plant food”, “research chemicals” or “unsuitable for human consumption”. As soon as a substance is outlawed, chemists can tweak its composition to ensure an almost identical substance remains legal.

Ministers believe the current legislation is inadequate, arguing that there is little to stop a schoolchild buying a drug over the counter that is more harmful than ecstasy, and will study alternative approaches around the world.

The review, which is being conducted by the Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker and completed by next spring, will form the basis of an overhaul of existing laws on legal highs.

He is examining moves in New Zealand requiring anyone producing a drug designed for recreational use to obtain a licence, putting the onus on the manufacturer to demonstrate its safety.

In the United States, broad families of synthetic drugs, including laboratory-designed alternatives to marijuana, have been outlawed, while in the Republic of Ireland a general law banning the sale of any dangerous or harmful “psychoactive substance” has been implemented.

Mr Baker said: “The coalition government is determined to clamp down on the reckless trade in so-called ‘legal highs’, which has tragically already claimed the lives of far too many young people in our country.

“Despite being marketed as legal alternatives to banned drugs, users cannot be sure of what they contain and the impact they will have on their health. Nor can they even be sure that they are legal.

“Our review will consider how current legislation can be better tailored to enable the police and law enforcement officers to combat this dangerous trade and ensure those involved in breaking the law are brought to justice.”

The number of cannabinoids, stimulant powders including mephedrone, and other psychoactive substances in circulation has more than tripled in the last four years, with an average of one new “legal high” going on sale every week.

They are advertised on at least 700 websites, including 140 hosted in Britain, and are also available in so-called “head shops” across the country.

A recent report found young people are buying the drugs from a range of retailers from petrol stations to takeaways, pet shops, tattoo parlours and sex shops. Some stores in the North of England are stocking “legal highs” like “peanuts in a pub”, the charity DrugScope reported.

Danny Kushlick, the director of Transform Drug Policy Foundation, said: “The current situation of prohibiting each substance as it appears on the market is clearly untenable, with even the police admitting that enforcement cannot prevail.”

Legal highs

NBOMe also known as N-Bomb. A powerful hallucinogen likened to LSD. About to become a class A drug.

Benzofuran An alternative to ecstasy linked to the death this year of a couple in Cambridge. About to become a class B drug.

Clockwork Orange Described as “herbal incense” to be smoked with tobacco. Three youngsters hospitalised in Northumberland this year after taking it. Available online and in stores.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Sport
footballLive: All the latest from today's Premier League matches
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Transport Administrator / Planner

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee