The Home Office have published a review of the Psychoactive Substances Act (PSA) 2016, which introduced a blanket ban on the production, distribution, sale and supply of most psychoactive substances, including former ‘legal highs’ or new psychoactive substances (NPS).
Under the act, suppliers of offending substances can face up to seven years in prison, with civil orders being issued to close down online dealers and head shops.
According to the report, since the ban; thirty-one outlets had closed, with a further 332 no longer stocking the drugs; prices of substances sold illicitly has increased and “significantly” fewer people are using them.
The Home Office concluded that most of the aims of the act “appear to have been achieved, with the open sale of NPS largely eliminated, a significant fall in NPS use in the general population, and a reduction in health-related harms which is likely to have been achieved through reduced usage”.
But it also said that areas of concern had remained – or emerged – since the ban, and noted “continued high levels of synthetic cannabinoid use among the homeless and prison populations.”
Some agencies, however, such as Transform Drug Policy Foundation, had larger reservations about the success of the Act.
Transform’s Martin Powell said that “this blanket ban was supposed to cure the UK’s ‘legal high’ problem, including Spice. But as experts warned before the new law was implemented, beyond the cosmetic success of ending legal sales in head shops, little positive has been achieved. At the same time Class A drug use and deaths have risen, suggesting drug use has just shifted not reduced, so the review can’t say if health and social harms have fallen.”
Transform has four main concerns.
- The Act was supposed to put an end to the open sale of NPS but, whilst these have been largely eliminated, the evidence suggested that the main source of supply for NPS is now likely to be street dealers, particularly for synthetic cannabinoids.
- The act was also supposed to put an end to the game of ‘cat and mouse’, where new substances appeared on the market in response to legislation but according to Transform, “This does not appear to have been achieved…..novel drugs which are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971) have continued to emerge since the introduction of the PSA.”
- There is insufficient evidence to quantify the extent to which NPS users have substituted other existing drugs “so it is not possible to identify whether the Act has led to an overall reduction in drug use.”
- The act was intended to reduce the various health and social harms associated with NPS and in general, this had been achieved. However, while there had been a reduction in NPS-related deaths across England and Wales, there has been a considerable increase in Scotland since the Act has been introduced.