Home Office rules out licensing of 'legal highs' shops

Norman Baker Home Office sources suggested Mr Baker's comments were taken out of context

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The Home Office has said it has no intention of licensing shops that sell so-called "legal highs" after a minister appeared to float the idea.

Lib Dem Norman Baker was quoted by the Times as suggesting such outlets could be treated like sex shops with their windows blacked out and under-18s barred to show they weren't "harmless".

Home Office sources said his comments had been taken out of context.

Mr Baker told BBC News he would not comment further on the issue.

The latest official UK figures show 68 deaths were linked to legal highs in 2012, up from 10 in 2009.

The government has imposed bans on more than 250 substances, officially known as "new psychoactive substances", which are marketed at young people and presented in bright packaging.

'Dangerous trade'

What are legal highs?

  • Substances that produce similar effects to illegal drugs (such as cocaine and ecstasy) but are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
  • This is because there is not enough research about them to base a decision on.
  • They cannot be sold for human consumption, but are often sold as bath salts or plant food to get round the law
  • Most fall into one of three categories: stimulants, sedatives or hallucinogens

The Times said Mr Baker - who chaired a summit on the issue on Thursday - had suggested that licensing was one way of controlling the proliferation of "head shops".

The outlets, of which there are hundreds in the UK, sell "legal highs" as well as New Age herbs, "party powders" and smoking-related paraphernalia.

"Rather than giving the impression that they are harmless, we need to consider whether or not there are messages and ways of dealing with those," the newspaper reported him as saying.

"We should maybe look at licensing them like sex shops with blacked-out windows and not allowing under-18s in."

'Not safe'

But the Home Office issued a statement on Friday, saying it had "no intention of regulating or licensing 'legal highs'"

"On the contrary, we are working to consider how current legislation can be toughened to combat this dangerous trade and ensure those involved in breaking the law are brought to justice," said a spokesman.

Start Quote

Drugs are illegal because they are harmful and often deadly”

End Quote Home Office

"Drugs are illegal because they are harmful and often deadly."

When asked about the Times report by BBC News on Friday, Mr Baker said he had no further comment to make and referred to the Home Office statement.

Home Office guidance issued to councils in December stated that head shops describing themselves as licensed could be prosecuted under consumer protection laws.

Speaking at Thursday's meeting, Mr Baker said it was "not acceptable" that such substances were readily available, even reportedly being sold from ice cream vans outside schools.

People buying the hallucinogenic drugs did not know what was in them, he added, making them particularly dangerous, but there was "no simple solution" to the problem.

"Some of these substances are very dangerous and can and do lead to deaths," he said.

"The way they're marketed and presented suggests to people that they are legal and safe. But sometimes they are not legal and they are certainly not safe."

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