Editorial by Sarah Newton, Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism.
Drugs don’t just harm the individuals using them. They can devastate whole families, and the communities around them – the same communities where we all live, work and bring up our children. Recent reports of a surge in serious incidents involving Spice in Manchester highlight just how damaging illegal substances can be – and brings home why tackling them is important for this Government.
I have been appalled to see the photographs showing the impact the drug can have on those who take it. We have known about the devastating consequences of Spice for some time, and we have acted to give police the powers they need to take action, making third generation synthetic cannabinoids Class B drugs on a par with ketamine and amphetamines. We will continue to monitor its impact and if we need to do more, we will.
In the last few days, I have heard some people saying the Government was wrong to ban so-called ‘legal highs’ through last year’s Psychoactive Substances Act. I could not disagree more.
Until we outlawed them, people could go into a shop and, quite legally, walk out with a quantity of a “legal high” – a manufactured substance, like Spice, cooked up in a lab without any proper controls or tests to examine the impact it would have on somebody’s health. We could not allow that situation to persist. It was costing lives.
The Psychoactive Substances Act is working. It means we can stay one step ahead of the people cooking up dangerous new, slightly different chemical compounds to try to remain on the right side of the law. It has given police the powers they needed. Hundreds of retailers across the United Kingdom have either closed down or are no longer selling psychoactive substances, making the drugs much harder to access. Police have arrested hundreds of dealers, some of whom are now behind bars with many more cases progressing through the courts.
For some substances previously referred to as “legal highs” we have gone further, because they pose a particular threat to the public. That is true of Spice, and the synthetic cannabinoids which it contains, which we controlled as a Class B drug, giving police more powers to take action, including making possession illegal and delivering longer sentences for dealers.
Enforcement work is crucially important, but isn’t the only way we’re dealing with the problem of drugs like Spice. We are also focusing on vital education and support for people who are dependent on drugs and others, like children, the homeless and others who could be vulnerable. The Government’s new Drug Strategy, which will be published shortly, will build on our work to educate young people and treat those who need help.
For the sake of our communities, we cannot afford to treat these drugs anything but extremely seriously, and I believe the action we’re taking clearly shows we are working to stamp them out.