POLICE in Leeds seized what were formerly known as legal highs during a visit to a ‘head shop’ just hours after a wide range of substances were outlawed.
Officers seized 94 cannisters of nitrous oxide - commonly known as laughing gas - during a visit to the High Rollaz shop on Compton Road, Harehills, this morning.
Two men were also cautioned for possession of cannabis.
Suppliers of so-called legal highs that mimic the effects of controlled drugs like cocaine cannabis and ecstasy, will now face up to seven years in prison after the substance was outlawed at midnight.
The blanket ban on previously legal highs now criminalises the production, distribution, sale and supply of the new psychoactive substances - or designer drugs.
Detective Chief Inspector Warren Stevenson of West Yorkshire Police, said: “Psychoactive substances mimic the effect of controlled drugs and are not safe to take.
“They are rather unhelpfully often referred to as ‘legal highs’ which leads people to think that if they are legal, they must also be safe.
“This couldn’t be further from the truth, and sadly we have incidents where people have ended up seriously ill in hospital, and also some deaths following on from people taking these substances.
“We are utilising a number of methods, along with our partners to educate both users and suppliers in an effort to avoid retailers falling foul of the new law and at the same time making West Yorkshire a safer place to be including making people feel safer within West Yorkshire communities.”
One man working at the High Rollaz shop, who did not want to be named, said: “They have forced it on to the street...At one point it had to come in a packet with a sticker on the back explaining what it was and what to do with it and now it’s just going to come in little wraps on the street.
“You don’t even know what people are going to be selling. You will probably find it turns out worse.
“There will be more muggings and stabbings because now it‘s behind shops and it’s in ginnels and it’s down the side of people’s houses.”
Detective Chief Inspector Stevenson said: “The change in legislation affects all retailers, and guidance has already, and will continue to be issued nationally and locally to those thought to be intentionally, and unknowingly selling psychoactive substances.
“Certain items are exempt from the act, however it will be an offence to supply, or offer to supply psychoactive substances and the police will be able to stop and search people, vehicles as well as premises and not only seize but also destroy psychoactive substances.
“We have tried to ensure that all retail outlets – shops, garages, market stalls and internet suppliers are aware of their obligations under the new act and that their organisations or business are not selling or in any other way dealing in psychoactive substances by conducting extensive visits at premises in the run up to the bill.
Officers from across West Yorkshire have been visiting premises and those known to be distributing psychoactive substances in the run up to today to offer advice about the legislation change and what it means to them.
Premises will be revisited regularly to enforce the new legislation and where necessary, officers will take appropriate action.
Mark Burns Williamson, Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire, said: “I have previously called for the existing laws to be tightened up to reflect this rapidly changing problem facing our communities.
“ With more psychoactive substances constantly introduced into the market West Yorkshire Police have been at the forefront of leading the way with partners in tackling this growing problem. For example we had the first successful prosecution of its kind in the country in Leeds, but it’s very important that retailers and others know about the human impact and their moral responsibility to stop selling these drugs which we now know can devastate families and the lives of those that use them.
“It is testament to our partnership and innovative working that West Yorkshire Police have been praised for helping keep these substances off our streets and now it will be an offence to supply, or offer to supply psychoactive substances. “I welcome that the police will now have greater and appropriate powers to ensure those breaking the law are dealt with severely in trying to lessen the very harmful wider impact on our streets and in communities.”
DCI Stevenson added; “West Yorkshire Police has been running Operation Nightshot since 2012, a multi-agency campaign aimed at raising awareness of the potential dangers of using these substances.
“As part of this campaign, DC Jamie Hudson has used existing legislation in innovative ways to prosecute suppliers and protect consumers. The change in legislation today, will assist police in dealing with this unregulated industry and it will go some way in reducing the availability of these often dangerous substances to users.”
Councillor Simon Blackburn, of the Local Government Association, said “legal highs” are a “scourge on society and shatter lives”.
He added: “We are aware of the risk that the sale of psychoactive substances will now move on to the ‘dark web’ - a network of untraceable online activity and hidden websites - and would welcome the Government putting additional resources into tackling the online threat.”