Legal Highs

In 2012, sixty eight young people across the United Kingdom died after ingesting what have come to be known as “legal highs”. Many others have been ill or hospitalised after taking them, including a 17-year-old student in Canterbury who was just 10 minutes away from death after taking “Exodus Damnation”. Unfortunately, these young people made the mistake in thinking that because these products were legal, they were safe. Julian made it a priority to push for effective action against their sale to protect the community.

Shops like “Skunkworks”, a franchise which at the time operated a store in Canterbury, evaded the law for years by selling their wares as “bath salts” or “herbal remedies”, with the token “not fit for human consumption” labelled on the front, so that they could not be prosecuted under food legislation. Yet this is a cynical gesture, as it is widely known what they are used for. These companies have consequently been cautious in their approach to try to maintain their precarious position. Sales assistants in the store are under strict orders that they cannot give any advice on the products, lest they fall off of the knife edge of legality that they sit on.

Julian first took this issue up with the Secretary of State in the Home Office in July 2012, asking what could be done to protect local communities. Since then, he pressed the issue with Home Office Ministers, Kent County Council, as well as Kent County Police to try and look for a solution, namely to bring an injunction against the stores selling these wares. After his persistent work in area, in April, Julian was called to attend the Delegated Legislation Committee discussion on the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to assist in banning a fresh group of drugs.

The then-Minister for Crime Prevention in the Home Office, Norman Baker, described the growing legal highs market as “challenging, complicated, and difficult”. The Minister’s comments came as no surprise when every week new compounds are created to circumvent legislation in countries such as India and China, and then trafficked around the world. In Jersey for instance, a major hub for drug trafficking into the UK, around 90% of the seizures still involved cannabis, but “new psychoactive substances” seizures, like mephedrone, are on the rise.

Progress is being made however. Julian welcomed the announcement that more than 20 music festivals, including popular festivals such as T in the Park and Bestival, have stopped the sale of legal highs on their premises. He also welcomed the then-Home Office Minister Norman Baker’s statement that “all options” are on the table for consideration, and has ruled out licencing of the shops.

To actively move this campaign forward, Julian worked with a barrister who has taken a special interest in the issue to discuss what can be done using existing legislation. He proposed Norman Baker that two pieces of legislation are re-examined: the Local Government Act 1972 and the Enterprise Act 2002. This legislation might hold some potential to bring an injunction against Skunkworks and other related stores.

In July 2014, Julian also welcomed news of a raid and confiscations by Trading Standards and Kent Police of several legal highs stores across Kent. This was followed by a Dartford Magistrates Court ruling that more than 800 products sold in branches of Skunkworks are dangerous and mislabeled, and their sale is illegal as of January 2015.

In May 2015, Julian welcomed the Government's announcement that legal highs would be banned under a new Psychoactive Substances Act. The Bill passed through Parliament and received Royal Assent in January 2016 and came into force in May of that year.

The Act prohibits and disrupts the production, distribution, sale and supply of legal highs in the UK, complementing the existing UK drug legislative framework in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The maximum sentence is seven years’ imprisonment.The Bill also provides powers to seize and destroy legal highs and powers to search persons, premises and vehicles, as well as to enter premises by warrant if necessary.