Independent experts have released a report recommending that local authorities impose tough new licensing laws in a bid to combat the increasing problems associated with so-called “legal highs”.
The expert group was established by the Scottish Government last year to look at the sale and supply of legal highs and new psychoactive substances (NPS), and what powers could be introduced for shops, bars and clubs to bring them under legal control.
Included in the findings of the report was a recommendation that Scotland adopt a similar model to that used in Ireland, where the sales of NPS and legal highs have been banned. It has also been suggested that the Government introduce fines of up to £20,000, or revoke the license for venues where legal highs are found to have been taken.
The report has been backed by legal affairs minister Paul Wheelhouse, who says he is committed to ensuring that new legislation is brought forward. “It has become increasingly clear over the past few years that the danger of new psychoactive substances represents a significant challenge for our health, justice and third-sector organisations.
“The fact their ingredients are unknown and untested is particularly worrying, and we have seen tragic incidents where these substances have caused huge harm to users, even death,” he said.
Although legal highs cannot legitimately be sold for human consumption, sellers are able to bypass laws by marketing them as products such as bath salts, plant food or pond cleaner.
Figures released in 2014 revealed that there were 113 deaths in Scotland last year where NPS were present, a figure that has doubled since 2013. In just over nine in 10 deaths, other drugs and alcohol were found in the body.
Campaigners for drug reform claim that the legalisation and regulation of some drugs would create a more controlled and safer market, which in part could help eliminate the need for drug takers to turn to legal highs.