The New Psychoactive Substances Act comes into force today, making it a criminal offence to supply, produce, import or export so-called legal highs.
Up until yesterday they were freely available from head shops, including Gypsy Kings in Portsmouth – which opened late and cut prices to off-load before the ban.
Now anyone supplying the popular but lethal drugs could be jailed for up to seven years,
The News has campaigned against the drugs – and is continuing to call for youngsters to be warned of the dangers as simply possessing them will not be a crime.
Inspector Kerry Loveless, Hampshire police’s force lead on psychoactive substances, said: ‘Frequently it is the most vulnerable people in our society who get drawn into using these drugs without realising that they can lead to addiction, overdose and in some cases death.
‘We intend to proactively target those individuals who commit offences under the new act, as we would with anyone dealing or supplying drugs.’
Insp Loveless added: ‘We would continue to advise people that these drugs are dangerous and have been linked to drug addiction, medical emergencies, mental illness and in some cases death.
‘Do not make the mistake of thinking that these are safe just because possessing them for personal use is not an offence.’
All of the area’s head shops have been visited by police ahead of the ban and Insp Loveless said police will track down any businesses still selling the drugs.
Tragic cases of deaths linked to the drug include Matthew Flatman, 35, of Gosport, who suffered a cardiac arrest after taking Gocaine.
Coroner David Horsley wrote to the government following the father’s inquest asking for the specific chemical make-up to be banned.
Pharmacists were able to simply change the chemical composition to get around such bans until the government caught up and banned each one as they came to light.
But the new act aims to stay one step ahead by banning supply of all substances ‘capable of producing a psychoactive effect in a person who consumes it’.
However, critics of the law say that it will be difficult to enforce – and that it could potentially criminalise a wide range of people.
In a striking comparison over the difficulty of enforcing bans, The News obtained data showing Hampshire police had arrested nobody for smoking in cars with children up to March. That law that came into force in October.
Asked about enforcing the legal high ban, Hampshire Police Federation chairman John Apter said: ‘This new law will be challenging to enforce and will put extra demand on already over-stretched officers.
‘However, doing nothing is not an option.’
Police will now have to hunt down retailers supplying the drug to users in the area in the street, in shops and online.
And anyone buying them online from another country could face being jailed as police said this would be classed as importation.
Insp Loveless added: ‘Most legal highs come into the UK from America and China, so it is highly likely that if you decide to buy these over the internet you will be committing an offence and could face prosecution.’
Flick Drummond said police now have clear powers to disrupt the supply of what the Portsmouth South MP calls lethal highs.
She said: ‘I know they have been trying very hard already on this.
‘This really gives police the clear message that they can go out and stop the supply of them selling them – I’m very pleased with that.
‘You will be prosecuted and may end up in jail.
‘There will be people monitoring internet sales as well.
‘The police will do that and they’ll try to find any source.
‘This is an international problem, we’ll be working with other governments on this to make sure we track down the suppliers and people making those drugs.’
Michael Lane, Hampshire’s police and crime commissioner, added: ‘For me they are better named lethal highs.
‘I’m entirely supportive there needs to be a change in the public perception of these dangerous and personality-changing and health-changing substances.
‘I’m therefore very glad about the legislation and very keen that people understand the risk involved.’
What does the new ban on legal highs mean?
TACKLING the problem of legal highs has led the government to enforce a blanket ban.
The supply of all psychoactive drugs is now a criminal offence under the act – except for drugs already controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, such as cocaine.
Home Office guidance says that means any drug that ‘affects mental functioning or emotional state by stimulating or depressing their nervous system’ is included.
They often mimic the effect of ecstasy, cocaine or cannabis.
So that includes any drug that causes hallucinations, changes in alertness, affects perception of time and space, mood or empathy with others, or drowsiness.
Food, medicines, alcohol, controlled drugs, nicotine and tobacco products and caffeine are not included in the ban, which comes into force today.
But if a shop was to sell items, such a solvent-based glue, anti-freeze or nitrous oxide (laughing gas), to consume then the retailer would be committing a crime.
If the shop sells the product to a customer so that person can use it in the intended way, then the retailer has not broken the law.
However, a retailer could commit a crime if it is reckless – including if shop workers know the product is misused and sell it to someone they suspect may misuse it.
The crimes are:
n producing a psychoactive substance.
n supplying, or offering to supply, a psychoactive substance.
n possession of a psychoactive substance with intent to supply it.
n importing or exporting a psychoactive substance.
n possessing a psychoactive substance in a custodial institution.
LEGAL HIGHS: ONLY LOWS
The News launched its Legal Highs: Only Lows campaign in September last year in a bid to both highlight the dangers of the substances and to lobby for laws to counter their spread.
Since then we have featured many stories that show the devastation that the sometimes lethal substances can have, as well as analysing the legislation that controls them.
The aims of the campaign are:
n To ensure the government delivers on its pledge to impose a complete ban on the production, distribution, supply and sale of legal highs by formerly adopting the Psychoactive Substances Bill.
n To raise awareness of the lethal dangers of legal highs, especially among teenagers.
n To lobby Portsmouth City Council to come up with a comprehensive action plan detailing how a ban could be enforced, and who people should contact if they think someone is under the influence or suffering from the effects of legal highs.