Friday

20th Sep 2019

EU commission attacks 'legal highs'

  • Legal highs are often sold in high street 'head shops' (Photo: Mark Turnauckas)

The European Commission has proposed to make it easier to ban "legal highs" and for countries to jail people who ignore the bans.

Legal highs are chemicals which replicate the effects of illicit drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy or marijuana.

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There is a long list of them available in some high street shops or on the internet, and the list is getting ever longer.

In 2005, member states notified just over 20 new psychoactive substances to the EU's anti-drugs agency, the EMCDDA in Lisbon. But in 2011, they flagged up 49. In 2012, they notified 73.

So far, EU countries have banned just nine substances on the basis of EMCDDA recommendations.

One reason for the low number is the long time it takes - around two years - for the EU process to work.

But under Tuesday's proposals, the ECMDDA and the EU's joint police body, Europol, in the Hague, can impose a temporary ban on sales to consumers "within weeks" if a substance is deemed risky.

They can also impose a permanent ban on sales to consumers and industry within 10 months if a substance is deemed to pose a "severe risk."

In a parallel legal proposal, the commission recommended that EU countries impose jail sentences of between one and 10 years on people who sell "severe risk" chemicals after an EU ban.

A recent commission survey noted that young people in Ireland, Poland, Latvia and the UK are the biggest users.

But EU justice commissioner Viviane Reding tried to put faces on the problem in Brussels on Tuesday (17 September) by naming two people who recently died.

She named Sean, a 22-year-old from Belfast, who died after taking "China White," which he bought in a high street shop, and Alex, a 19-year-old from Edinburgh, who died after someone gave him "Benzo Fury" at a festival.

Reding noted the new measure is flexible because one fifth of legal highs is used in industry or medical research.

She said substances deemed to pose "moderate risk" will be available to companies and to research institutes, unlike the total ban on "high risk" substances.

She noted she has done "political work" on EU countries, so that relatively lenient states, such as the Netherlands and Spain, are on board.

She acknowledged it will be "difficult" to stop internet sales even if her law gets through, however.

Asked by one journalist in Brussels if prohibition risks creating a new black market, Reding dismissed the idea.

She said she had a debate on prohibition in her home country of Luxembourg 33 years ago, adding "I am not going to continue this discussion 33 years later."

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EU member states have unanimously backed a Europe-wide ban on mephedrone, described by Brussels as a "dangerous, ecstasy-like drug", despite a recent report from the bloc's own drugs agency that said there is limited evidence of any danger.

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