04:29, August 31 293 0 theguardian.com

2017-08-31 04:29:03
Laughing gas still illegal despite court decisions, government says

Laughing gas is still illegal, the government has insisted, amid reports that two cases against people accused of intending to deal it fell apart when the courts heard the substance was exempt from the very law designed to ban it.

Though the judge in one of the cases stressed that it did not set a legal precedent, there have been calls to review the dozens of convictions already achieved under the Psychoactive Substances Act.

A case at Southwark crown court was thrown out this week after the court heard that an expert witness for the prosecution defined nitrous oxide as not being covered by the act, which was brought in last year to ban what were formerly known as legal highs.

That followed the collapse of a case against two people charged with intending to supply the substance at the Glastonbury festival this year. The judge at Taunton crown court, Paul Garlick QC, said nitrous oxide was “plainly an exempted substance” on the evidence put before him.

The defence teams successfully argued that nitrous oxide, which can be used for pain relief, was covered by an exemption that allows medicinal products, according to various reports.

The judge sitting in Southwark, David Tomlinson, reportedly said it was not a “test case”, the BBC reported. And the Home Office stressed that point, saying that they believed the act still banned nitrous oxide and that each case would have to be decided on its individual circumstances.

“Nitrous oxide is covered by the Psychoactive Substances Act and is illegal to supply for its psychoactive effect. However, the act provides an exemption for medical products. Whether a substance is covered by this exemption is ultimately one for a court to determine based on the circumstances of each individual case,” a spokesman said.

“Since the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 came into force, over 300 retailers across the United Kingdom have either closed down or are no longer selling psychoactive substances; police have arrested suppliers, and action by the National Crime Agency has resulted in the removal of psychoactive substances being sold by UK-based websites.

“These dangerous drugs have already cost far too many lives and the Psychoactive Substances Act is sending out a clear message – this government will take whatever action is necessary to keep our families and communities safe.”

According to the BBC, the drugs charity Release said: “The CPS must urgently drop all prosecutions under the Psychoactive Substances Act and review cases where defendants have previously pleaded guilty.”