New legislation banning the sale of so-called ‘legal highs’ will be enforceable across the north within weeks, it has been confirmed.
Sinn Féin MLA Maeve McLaughlin has welcomed the development, confirmed in a letter to her from Health Minister Simon Hamilton.
Ms McLaughlin, the chair of the Assembly’s Health Committee, had written to the Minister seeking clarity around the issue.
Responding this week, Mr Hamilton said that, following Royal Assent, the Psychoative Substances Act 2016 will be applicable UK-wide, with enforcement “anticipated to commence on April 6, 2016.”
Mr Hamilton added: “I am aware that officials from the Department of Justice have been involved in discussions with their Home Office counterparts regarding the implementation of the ban in Northern Ireland.
“Enforcement will primarily be a matter for the Police Service of Northern Ireland in conjunction with our Local Government.
“The legislation is similar to the laws already successfully brought forward in the Republic of Ireland where, prior to the introduction of the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010, there were 102 ‘head shops’. After its introduction, the trade virtually disappeared overnight with only a small amount remaining.”
Ms McLaughlin said the development was very welcome.
She said: “There is no doubt about the misery psychoactive substances or so-called legal highs cause across all communities.
“Toxic substances, which masquerade under the guise of legality, have led to deaths and caused untold harm to so many, particularly young people.
“The passage of the landmark Psychoactive Substances Act will ban the production, supply and importation of these deadly substances and penalties will involve up to seven years imprisonment.”
She added: “Sinn Féin has consistently called for an all-Ireland approach to deal with so-called legal highs and this legislation, which will come into effect here in the Spring, will be similar to legislation already in place in the 26 counties.
“The legislation in the south was successful and led to the closure of almost 100 so-called head shops. While this legislation is welcome in terms of tackling the local sale of so-called legal highs, many of these substances are sold online and we must ensure every effort is made to make sure these substances are not available anywhere.”