Legal highs were never legal they just weren’t illegal. Many confused “legal” with “safe” and many have suffered adverse consequences, even death, as a result.  The Government is now acting to stamp out “this brazen trade” and a ban on legal highs was introduced this week.

The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 criminalises the production, distribution, sale and supply of psychoactive substances.  It does not make possession of these substances a criminal offence.

Although it is expected that shops and UK based websites will immediately stop selling legal highs there is a concern that the sale of them will be pushed into criminal supply, either on the dark web, or through organised crime or street dealers. This is where the issue could become a concern for pub and club operators as dealers may look to supply these substances on your premises.  It is important that operators and their staff are aware of the potential problem of legal highs and this is tackled in the same way as illegal drugs should be tackled.

Prohibited activity

The Act makes provision for the issue of a premises notice if the police reasonably believe that a “prohibited activity” is being carried out at a property.  This includes the supply of, or offering to supply, a psychoactive substance, so if customers at your outlet are found to be doing so you could be issued with a premises notice.

The penalties

If a premises notice is then breached, because customers continue to supply legal highs in your outlet, as premises supervisor/licensee you could be liable for a fine or up to 12 months in custody.

In addition to a criminal sanction, a publican who allows or turns a blind eye to the supply or use of psychoactive substances on his premises is likely to lose his premises licence, or at least have strict conditions attached to it.

Practical steps to take

In short, you should ensure that your drugs policy is now amended to include reference to psychoactive substances. Staff must be regularly trained in your policy;  they need to be aware of the issues and should take prompt action if a situation arises.

For more detailed guidance, see Freeths’ article “Be proactive in the policing of drugs in your pubs”  which looks at the ways that operators should protect themselves and their outlets from a drugs issue.

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the present time and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.