So called ‘legal highs’ are substances designed to produce the same, or similar effects, to drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy. But their chemical make-up is different enough to avoid being covered by the law. Often they are sold as bath salts, research chemicals, plant food or advertised as ‘not for human consumption’ to get round the law.
I have been contacted by numerous constituents, raising their concerns about the selling of ‘legal highs’ from a shop in the arcade in town. Many people believe it has caused an increase in anti-social behaviour in the area, having witnessed users snorting these substances and then collapsing or vomiting and generally causing a disturbance. Often paramedics have had to be called to deal with the appalling results. The police can only move them on, as the substances are not illegal, but the users readily return later.
It has led to some businesses losing customers and their staff being afraid to venture outside of their shops alone. This is extremely worrying on many levels. Firstly, it does little to boost the local economy; this is an area which is particularly attractive and often draws in visitors from outside the area. Secondly, residents and business owners should not have to fear for their safety in broad daylight in the middle of our town. Thirdly, it has been reported that adults have been seen buying these substances for children.
Whilst the owner of this particular business has implemented his own ‘Over 18s only’ policy, it clearly isn’t working. And it is a wider issue for all of society in that, as the law currently stands, these substances are deemed to be perfectly acceptable for children of any age to buy. The fact that they carry the message ‘Not for consumption’ clearly does not prevent them being consumed.
I have spoken directly to the owner of the business. He claims that if he wasn’t selling them, then someone else would be. That may be the case but we can only deal with the reality of the situation – which is totally unacceptable.
I am in discussions with local stakeholders to see what can be done on this issue – including South Yorkshire Police, West Yorkshire Police, Barnsley Council, Trading Standards and local business people. I am also pursuing the issue nationally to see how the law can be changed to tackle the issue; current legislation cannot keep up with how quickly and easily these substances can be chemically altered and, therefore, exempt from the law.
I have also asked Barnsley Council to talk to the Department of Communities and Local Government to see if a by-law can be created to tackle the use of legal highs in this specific part of town.
‘Legal highs’ are a blight on our town and a threat to our children; this issue needs everyone’s urgent attention. I will pursue this issue until we reach an acceptable resolution for our town. I will not let this matter go, as it is vital to Barnsley’s long term prosperity.
This article was first published in the Barnsley Independent on 30 April 2014.