‘Legal Highs’ to become ‘Illegal Highs’ from 26th May 2016

Emery Johnson Astills Crime department considers the new Psychoactive Substances Act, banning so called ‘legal highs’ which will come into force on 26th May 2016.


There has been mounting concern in recent years about the dangers of ‘legal highs’ substances that are not controlled by legislation, that mimic the effects of already illegal controlled drugs.  Existing controlled drugs, such as Cocaine, Ecstasy, Heroin and Cannabis are already regulated by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.  Despite previously being nominally legal, ‘legal highs’ have been reported to have harmed, or even killed, individuals in a number of high profile cases. There is also concern that such substances are being widely used by prisoners in custody.

Due to this the Government began a consultation process in 2013, with the aim of limiting the use of legal highs.  A new piece of legislation will come into force on 26th May 2016 banning the supply, sale, distribution and production of such substances, with penalties of up to 7 years imprisonment available for offenders. Currently, such substances are available for purchase in shops and online.  However, in contrast to existing legislation of controlled substances, there will be no offence of possession of such substances, except in the case of prisoners.

There has been much debate about how any law banning ‘legal highs’ would work, as producers are constantly altering the chemical makeup of such drugs.  The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, have produced a definition of psychoactive substances namely;

‘A substance causes a psychoactive effect in a person if, by stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system, it affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state.’

This, however, means that a variety of commonly used substances, such as alcohol, tea, coffee and prescribed medicines, have had to specifically exempted from the legislation.  ‘Poppers’ are not made illegal by the act, as they do not have a direct effect on the brain or central nervous system.

Critics of the act suggest that making more substances illegal will force users into using unscrupulous suppliers, instead of existing legitimate businesses.  Others suggest that the prosecution will need to provide expert evidence in order to prove the substances meet the definition of ‘psychoactive.’

Allen Morgan Msc, a Forensics drugs expert often instructed to assist the defence of Emery Johnson Astills clients, says of the new legislation;

‘Such a piece of legislation, introducing a ‘blanket’ ban on any substance which causes a psychoactive effect in a person does cause some concerns.  The strain on forensic providers to identify such substances, particularly in light of cutbacks in forensic provision and to confirm the psychoactive effects of such a substance is likely to be immense.  More than ever before it will be critical to ensure that substances recovered are accurately identified and considered in view of this piece of legislation.  How such legislation for example will cope with the vast array of health products that may be considered as having psychoactive effects will be of some concern.’

If you require advice in relation to any drugs offences, Emery Johnson Astills can provide advice and representation from the Police Station through to the Crown Court.  Your Emery Johnson Astills representative will be knowledgeable about both the existing and new law, and will be able to assist in obtaining independent expert evidence where necessary.