In 2014, the rapid increase of the sale of so-called ‘legal-highs’ in Barnsley caused a surge in anti-social behaviour across the Borough. Residents and shopkeepers contacted me with alarming reports of users collapsing, vomiting and urinating in the streets, gathering in groups and intimidating passers-by with inappropriate behaviour at all times of day and night. It quickly became clear that the devastating impact of ‘legal-highs’ was being felt throughout the UK. These potentially lethal substances were becoming readily available, with many users being unaware of the dangers of taking highs which mimic the effects of illegal drugs. The Government was slow to respond on this issue, so I began a national campaign to criminalise ‘legal highs’ and remove these dangerous substances from our streets. I also set up a meeting with Barnsley Council and local stakeholders to discuss how best to tackle the impact on our community.
March 2014: Deciding to tackle the issue head on, I met with the owners of the 'legal high' shop in Barnsley to ask them to consider the serious impact of their sale of ‘legal-highs’ on the community.
July 2014: Speaking at the Westminster Hall debate on the issue, I urged the Government to take action on legal highs. The 'legal high' shop in Barnsley is evicted from their town centre premises – a fantastic result but unfortunately the owner opens new premises on the Sheffield Road.
November 2014: I welcome the Government’s plan to legislate for a blanket ban on the sale of 'legal highs'. Listen to me discuss the key issues on Dearne FM
February 2015: I met with Home Office ministers to ask when a ban will be brought in.
April 2015: I urge Barnsley Council to liaise with other local authorities who have used Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) to curb anti-social behaviour arising from the use of ‘legal-highs’.
June 2015: I held a public meeting with residents to discuss the impact of legal highs on the community.
September 2015: after writing repeatedly to the proprietors of ‘Smokey Sam’s’ urging them to act responsibly, they finally agree to cease selling legal highs completely by the end of the year.
January 2016: the Home Office introduces the Psychoactive Substances Bill.
1 April 2016: Barnsley Council introduce a Public Space Protection Orders (PSPO) giving enforcement officers enhanced powers to take action against those acting inappropriately under the influence of legal highs.
May 2016: the Psychoactive Substances Act becomes law. It is now a criminal offence to sell ‘legal highs’.
The introduction of the legislation outlawing 'legal highs' has had a significant impact on the supply of these dangerous psychoactive substances. On a local level, the police and enforcement officers have been able to make use of the enhanced powers given to them by the PSPO. Concerns remain regarding the online sale of these lethal highs and I will hold the Government to their promise to review the effectives of their legislation after 20 months.