DATE PUBLISHED: 11 Apr 2016 LAST UPDATED: 09 Jun 2021

Psychoactive Substances Act postponed indefinitely

The Psychoactive Substances Act (“the Act”) which was due to come into force on 6 April 2016 has been postponed by the Home Office. The Home Office has also announced that a new date for commencement of the Act has not been confirmed.

The proposed legislation

The Act was intending to make it an offence to produce, supply or import/export a psychoactive substance. In regards to possession of a psychoactive substance, this was not envisaged to be an offence, unless possession was with an intent to supply or in a “custodial institution”, such as prison or a young offender institution.

A psychoactive substance is defined as one which is “capable of producing a psychoactive effect in a person who consumes it … by stimulating or depressing a person’s central nervous system, which affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state”.

The main intention of the Act was to shut down shops and websites that currently trade in “legal highs” which are considered by medical professionals to be potentially more dangerous than longer standing illegal controlled drugs such as cocaine or ketamine.

The only exemptions from the Act were those substances already controlled by the Misuse of Drugs Act, medicinal products, alcohol, nicotine, tobacco and caffeine. The Act therefore did not replace or amend the law in regards to existing illegal controlled drugs.

Reason for the postponement

The reason for the postponement of the Act is the current definition of a psychoactive substance.

The definition has been and continues to be the subject of much debate, none more so than the widely publicised arguments in relation to Poppers. The definition requires clarity in order to ascertain which substances fall within the definition but are not explicitly exempt.

The Home Office is maintaining that the Act will come into force at some point in Spring 2016. However, the current definition of a psychoactive substance leaves question marks over whether the Act, even if brought into force, will be enforceable in practice

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