News story

High street dealers closed for business in Scotland

Ninety fewer suppliers on Scottish high streets after UK government’s landmark blanket ban on former 'legal highs' commenced.

Ninety retailers across Scotland are among hundreds across the United Kingdom which have either been closed or are no longer selling potentially dangerous psychoactive substances, according to new figures released today (Friday 26 August).

The statistics were announced as the Minister for Safeguarding, Vulnerability and Countering Extremism, Sarah Newton, joined officers from Northumbria Police’s New Psychoactive Substances Taskforce on patrol in Newcastle city centre to see some of the retailers closed following the act’s introduction 3 months ago, on 26 May.

Nationally, 308 shops have stopped selling the dangerous drugs, and 24 headshops have closed down altogether.

UK Minister for Safeguarding, Vulnerability and Countering Extremism Sarah Newton said:

These dangerous drugs have already cost far too many Scottish lives. I am delighted to see so many retailers denied the chance to profit from this reckless trade.

The Psychoactive Substances Act is sending out a clear message – this government will take whatever action is necessary to keep our families and communities safe. These drugs are not legal, they are not safe and we will not allow them to be sold in this country.

In 2014 alone, new psychoactive substances were implicated in, or potentially contributed to, 62 deaths in Scotland. Nationally, they were involved in the deaths of 144 people in the UK, up from 31 deaths in 2010, and there have been a total of 444 deaths involving new psychoactive substances since 2010.

Deputy Chief Constable Ruaraidh Nicolson said:

Police Scotland has been monitoring the sale and supply of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) since 2013 and identified over 90 retailers who were involved or suspected to be involved in the sale of NPS across Scotland. All were visited a week prior to the legislation taking effect to serve an educational letter and 5 premises across Scotland were found to be openly selling NPS.

A week after the legislation was introduced, the same retailers were visited once again and none were found to be openly selling NPS.

In addition to the police action taken since the legislation was introduced, the National Crime Agency has taken action to shut down websites found to be in breach of the ban. It is working with international partners to address those websites based overseas.

National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Psychoactive Substances Commander Simon Bray said:

The significant reduction in the number of headshops and retailers stocking psychoactive substances in just three months demonstrates the hard work of officers across the country in getting these harmful drugs off the market.

It is still early days but the police enforcement approach combined with education and support services for users is helping to reduce the damage that misuse of these substances can cause in communities.

Penalties for offenders and powers for law enforcement include:

  • up to 7 years in prison for the supply, production, possession with intent to supply, importation or exportation of a psychoactive substance
  • up to 2 years in prison for possessing a psychoactive substance in a custodial institution
  • prohibition and premise orders which will allow police to shut down headshops and online dealers, with up to 2 years in prison for those who fail to comply.

Prior to the introduction to the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, the government took extensive action against so-called ‘legal highs’ having banned more than 500 dangerous drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act since 2010.

The ban ends the game of cat and mouse between manufacturers and the government whereby, previously, any new psychoactive substance discovered on the market had to be risk-assessed and the approval of Parliament sought to control a substance – or groups of substances – under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.