Laughing Gas: Government Puts a Pin in Nitrous Oxide Fun with Possession Prohibition

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29 September, 2023

Craig MacKenzie

Possession of nitrous oxide, also known as 'laughing gas', will be illegal by the end of the year.

The ban was promised as part of the Government's Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, with the Home Secretary urging police forces to get tougher on flagrant drug taking in the streets, which is said to blight communities.

Secondary legislation was passed on Tuesday 12 September which will control nitrous oxide as a Class C substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

The new measures are expected to come into force by the end of the year.

Those found in unlawful possession of the drug could face up to two years in prison or an unlimited fine, and up to 14 years for supply or production. There will be exemptions for legitimate uses of nitrous oxide, for example in medical or catering industries.

One MP accused the Government of tinkering with the law, commenting:

"On health harms, does the Minister acknowledge that the amendment is just tinkering with an Act that does not address the health harms of drugs? Does he agree that a wider review of the Act, which is half a century old, is needed to take drug dealers off the streets, tackle sinister organised crime, and treat those with addiction issues with compassion?"

The policing minister responded:

"I do not agree that the amendment is tinkering; it is an important measure [...]. On action against drug abuse more generally, we have a whole 10-year drug strategy that we are a year and a half into. It includes tough enforcement at the border and action to disrupt criminal gangs who deal drugs-we had a record level of drug seizures recently. In addition, we are investing record sums in drug treatment-£582 million extra over a three-year period-and increasing the number of treatment places by 54,000, so there is a comprehensive programme of work, both on enforcement to break drug importation and drug gangs, and, critically, on treatment to help people out of addiction and into a better life.

"By controlling nitrous oxide as a class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act, it will not just be an offence to recklessly or intentionally sell this substance for personal consumption but be an offence to possess it except for the legitimate use exemptions.

Drug misuse ruins lives. In the case of nitrous oxide, it also contributes significantly to antisocial behaviour. The Government have listened to the public and to parliamentarians who have been speaking for their constituents, and that is why we are taking this action."

Despite the threat of up to two years imprisonment, personal possession will be treated leniently in almost all cases.

Current users of Nitrous Oxide do, however, need to take note of the forthcoming restrictions as a caution or criminal conviction could affect future employment prospects. Being caught in possession of it could be no laughing matter!

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