In 2012, sixty eight young people across the United Kingdom died after ingesting what has come to be known as “legal highs”. Many others have been ill or hospitalised after taking them, including a 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 has made it a priority to push for effective action against their sale to protect the community.
Shops like “Skunkworks”, a franchise which has a store in Canterbury, evade the law 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 cannot 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 has been pressing 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 Minister for Crime Prevention in the Home Office, Norman Baker MP, has recently described the growing legal highs market as “challenging, complicated, and difficult”. The Minister’s comments should come 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 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 has been working 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 in January 2015.
Julian will continue to take a close interest this issue to ensure that Canterbury remains a safe place for the young people living there.