Northern Ireland news

Just two people charged since new laws on ‘legal highs'

The Psychoactive Substances Act aims to crack down on what were known as 'legal highs'

JUST two people in the north have faced charges in the four months since the introduction of a new law cracking down on 'legal highs'.

The Psychoactive Substances Act came into effect in Britain and Northern Ireland on May 26.

It makes it an offence to produce, supply or offer to supply any psychoactive substance if it is likely to be used for its psychoactive effects, regardless of its potential for harm.

Offenders can face up to seven years in prison, and police also have new powers to seize and destroy psychoactive substances, as well as carry out searches of people, premises and vehicles.

Chemicals sold under names such as Bliss, Mary Jane and Clockwork Orange, are designed to give users similar effects to drugs including cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy but have been linked to dozens of deaths across the UK.

Following an assembly question from Sinn Féin MLA Carál Ní Chuilín, it was revealed by justice minister Clare Sugden that two people have been charged with possession of 'new psychoactive substances' and files are currently with the Public Prosecution Service.

A further two people were said to be on investigation bail pending forensic analysis of the substances seized.

Prior to the act, the PSNI worked with the Department of Justice and other agencies including Belfast City Council and the Public Health Agency to tackle 'legal highs', which have become increasingly popular among teenagers in Northern Ireland.

They were being sold over the counter from 'head shops', all of which have since been closed.

Ms Ní Chuilín said the number of young people accessing so-called legal highs and other street drugs and presenting themselves to health and community services is a concern and the new law needs time to take effect.

"Given the newness of the legislation there will of course be a period for this legislation to bed in and become part of the overall policing framework," she said.

"I welcome that fact that as a result of this legislation we have seen prosecutions for the supply of these devastating drugs and would be hopeful that those who continue to sell these drugs to our young people will be brought before the courts."

Last week senior judges ruled against a 20-year-old Coleraine man's bid to regain 63 tablets taken from him when he was stopped and searched in January 2014.

At least 38 of the pills were analysed as being so-called legal highs, while others are believed to have been placebos.

Ruling in the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Weatherup said the return of the legal highs would be "contrary to the statutory purpose" of the 2016 Act.

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