Live events sector
The mother of a young man who died after taking a legal high has welcomed a decision by Canterbury Magistrates Court which declared that ‘legal highs’ seized in raids across Kent were unsafe. The decision means that local authorities across England and Wales can now use existing trading standards laws to tackle the sale of legal highs in so called ‘head shops’ and possibly at other locations – such as festivals – where the drugs might be sold . Karen Audino, whose son Jimmy Guichard died in October last year after taking a herbal substance that resulted in a heart attack and brain damage told the Times (04.12.14) “I’m absolutely thrilled this has happened. The shops aren’t going to be able to display what is in them because they don’t know”. Jimmy died aged just 20 in hospital in October 2013. A bag containing a herbal substance, said at the time to be synthetic cannabis from the UK Skunkworks shop based in Chatham in Kent, was found next to Jimmy where he had collapsed.
Back in June 2014 widespread raids were carried out across Kent at shops suspected of selling legal highs. Officers from Kent County Council’s Trading Standards and the Police targeted 14 stores in surprise visits as far afield as Canterbury, Maidstone and Gravesend. The stores had previously been sent a letter saying that so called ‘legal highs’ had the potential to kill. It called on them to stop selling legal highs. It also explained how they are designed to mimic the effects of illegal drugs, and had at that time caused at least one death in Kent. Trading Standards instigated the raids using laws that are designed to protect the public from harm – Medway Council said it believed that the products fell under the provisions of the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 which prohibit any unsafe product from being supplied – goods sold to the public must be safe and shops must know what is in products so they can alert customers to any risks – such as allergic reactions. Whilst some legal highs carry a disclaimer that they are not fit for human consumption, Magistrates were told that the shops were aware that they were being used for human consumption. Magistrates said more than 600 of the products seized were unsafe. Kent Trading Standards confirmed that three people had died in Kent as a result of taking legal highs in 2012. UK figures showed that twelve people died in 2009 rising to 97 in 2012.
Legal highs are substances that are used recreationally but are not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act (1971), not licensed for legal use, and not regulated as a medicine (Medicines Act 1968). Many drugs previously sold as legal highs are now controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, including mephedrone (meow meow), BZP and GBL. But often new versions are created and sold just as fast as the government can ban them – and the decision by the Canterbury Justices gives local authorities a far more flexible tool in tackling the problem of dangerous legal highs.
A letter from the Canterbury branch of Skunkworks to the local MP Julian Brazier in 2013 said the shop had “extremely high moral codes” and UK Skunkworks said “The paraphernalia that we sell is not for drug use, we sell a wide range of popular products that are received very well by an adult market” adding “The online industry of products we sell is extensive, however up until now the regulation of the products has been impossible” and “Our stores operate a number of strict policies and are enforced by a large team” and that “These policies ensure that young people under the age of 18 cannot enter our stores whatsoever.” The letter ended saying: “Calling for UK Skunkworks to be shut down is a pitiful attempt at dealing with the issues we face.
The Centre for Social Justice said “Legal highs are destroying lives – it is time to get tough on those selling them”. The Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) have launched a campaign “Don’t Be In The Dark About Legal Highs’ pointing out the dangers of legal highs. AIF’s members taking part in the campaign including Bestival, T-in-the-Park, Shambala, Lovebox, Kendal Calling, Sonisphere and Secret Garden Party have banned legal highs from their events.
AIF describe “’legal highs’ as “unregulated substances that mimic the effects of illegal drugs and can be just as dangerous. They have many names including Legals, New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) and herbal highs. They have been sold as bath salts or plant food and labelled ‘Not for human consumption’ to get around the law” and explain “Even a very small dose can have unpredictable and unwanted effects, as many of these substances haven’t been tested. The active chemicals can vary dramatically even with products which have the same name. ‘Legal Highs’ can also contain illegal drugs. Using large quantities increases the risk of side effects or overdose. Combining with other drugs and alcohol also increases the risks.”