Jude Kirton-Darling, Labour Member of the European Parliament for the North East has called on for a ban on legal highs to come into operation across the European Union (EU). So-called ‘legal highs’ are known as novel psychoactive substances and their use is growing across Europe. They are extremely dangerous and have resulted in serious harm and ultimately death. While they are labelled as ‘not for human consumption’ they are readily available and accessible in high-street outlets.
Jude has written to the European Commission and asked them to investigate a ban in legal highs across the EU. The Commission has responded to the question and suggested they were keen to impose a Europe-wide ban as it had become apparent that organised gangs across Europe were increasingly involved in the trade in legal highs. The Commission believed that action was justified because these gangs were quickly able to get around loopholes in Member States.
The European Parliament has backed action, however, this has been blocked by the European Council, which is made up of the Heads of State of each country in the EU. The European Union is balanced by three main institutions, the directly elected Parliament, the Council which is the Prime Ministers and Presidents of the Member States and the Commission which is the civil service of the EU. All three elements of the European Union need to agree before action can be taken.
Jude Kirton-Darling said “I have heard first hand of the damage that legal highs are doing here in the North East. I visited Changing Lives and heard about the threat to our young people that these drugs cause. They are cheaper than conventional drugs, are more freely available, but are actually more dangerous because we often have no idea what is in them.
“The European Commission was keen to take action because it is clear that the UK Government can’t tackle this alone but that the proposal has been blocked by national Governments. I have written to the UK Government to see if they blocked action at a Europe-wide level or whether they would support a widespread ban.
Jude Kirton Darling MEP question to the European Commission
Question for written answer P-008438/2015 to the Commission
Jude Kirton-Darling (S&D)
Response to the rise of new psychoactive substances
In recent years the prevalence of ‘legal highs’, otherwise known as new (or novel) psychoactive substances (NPS), has dramatically increased in Europe. In the UK these products are labelled as ‘not for human consumption’, but are readily available and accessible in high-street outlets. The substances’ effects are unpredictable, creating a depressive, stimulative or hallucinogenic effect and are often cheaper than illegal drugs.
The number of recorded deaths within the UK alone from misuse of these substances has risen rapidly, from 10 in 2009 to 68 in 2012. A domestic approach based on expanding existing lists of illegal substances has failed to keep pace with the rapid reformulation of NPSs, leaving legislative gaps which further fuel their use and the associated risks. The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction identified 73 new substances in 2012 alone.
Following the initiatives taken to raise public awareness of the risks posed by cigarettes, what action does the Commission propose to take at a European level to reduce the availability of NPSs and maximise awareness of their dangers? Is the Commission considering banning ‘legal highs’? What is the current regulatory situation in the 28 Member States?
Response from the European Commission
EN P-008438/2015 Answer given by Mr Avramopoulos on behalf of the Commission (28.7.2015)
Recent reports by Europol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) show that there is an increasing involvement of organised crime groups in the spread of New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) and that these groups possess the ability to quickly adapt to the legal loopholes in the Member States.
In September 2013, the Commission presented two legislative proposals to make the existing EU rules on NPS more robust and efficient and to allow for the taking of emergency measures, immediately applicable in all Member States.
While the European Parliament adopted legislative resolutions in April 2014 which strongly supported the Commission proposals, the files have not as of yet made much progress in the Council. The Commission regrets the current stalemate and hopes that the co-legislators will be able to start trilogues and make progress on these important measures soon.
The Commission Impact Assessment provided an "Overview of legislation used to address new psychoactive substances at national level" and noted that while drug control legislation (criminal law-based) is the most common type of regulation applied in all Member States to address New Psychoactive Substances; Member States are also using medicines legislation, general consumer protection legislation and legislation relating to dangerous chemicals in order to restrict the availability of new psychoactive substances at the national level.
Letter to the Secretary of State
Dear Secretary of State
While I am pleased that the UK Government is looking to take action against so-called ‘legal highs’ I believe there is a case for a Europe-wide ban. The European Commission has identified that organised crime gangs are now involved in selling legal highs and that they are operating across borders and exploiting loopholes in national legislation.
I have visited a charity in my constituency in my region and heard about the threat to our young people that these drugs cause. They are cheaper than conventional drugs, are more freely available, but are actually more dangerous because we often have no idea what is in them.
The Commission have responded to me and said that proposals for a Europe-wide ban have been blocked by the Council. Was the UK Government supportive of a ban at European level and if not would it change its view in light of plans to bring in a UK ban?
Labour Member of the European Parliament for the North East of England