We’re told that the UK’s ban on legal highs will come into effect soon. The relevant legislation was passed in January. In March the Home Office announced that enforcement would follow “in the spring.” The almanis crowd currently assign a 20% probability of this happening – taking June as the commonly accepted definition for the start of summer. Mind though that the UK’s top legal affairs journalist Joshua Rozenberg reckons “spring in Whitehall is a season that lasts until the end of July.”

The obstacles to properly enforcing any ban are significant and, in the view of most experts, insurmountable in the short-term. The problem mainly lies in proving any substance is a legal high.

Following any arrest, prosecutors would have to prove in a court that a seized substance would stimulate or depress a person’s central nervous system, thereby affecting the person’s mental functioning or emotional state – the definition of a ‘legal high’ contained in legislation. That would require, at the very least, experimentation on humans. Which is inconceivable.

The Scottish Executive, who seem to have been looking into this matter a bit longer than the UK government, have a reasonable longer-term plan. They are looking at setting up a Forensic Centre for Excellence to take a lead on the detection and chemical identification of legal highs. Whether such an institution could keep pace with the evolution of designer drugs is open to question, but it seems they at least have the right idea.

Where does this all leave us now? The plight of those attempting to tackle the very real problem of legal highs is best summed a recent farce reported by the irrepressible Camden New Journal. On 8th April, two days after an all-out ban on legal highs was supposed to be in force, police raided a ‘headshop’ in Camden selling synthetic cannabis, among other legal highs. This stock was seized under Trading Standards legislation concerning consumer safety.

Police then closed the offending shop but were forced to let it reopen within a day because a plumbing emergency in the relevant court’s toilets delayed the issuance of a court order. During the shop’s short closure, a man arriving in search of legal highs for his own consumption is reported to have stated: “They should close them all. It’s f****d up. People die from this.”

If even users support a ban, whatever obstacles authorities face, they do not lack public support.


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