Legal Highs 10/3/2014


Like others, I pay tribute to my colleagues for raising the issue.  I support the motion and was disappointed by Mr McCarthy's remarks.  He said that it was nothing to do with his Minister and that, because this is not a devolved matter, it was really Westminster that was dragging its feet.  That seemed to me a Pontius Pilate-type approach.  I was looking for the dish of water in which Pontius Pilate was washing his hands of the matter. That said, I pay tribute to Belfast City Council and will outline its process.   Although the issue had been raised in the press and, as Mr McIlveen said, a young man had recently died, there was no action.  My party colleague Gavin Robinson took the opportunity to bring a motion that the council approved unanimously.  Every councillor who spoke referred to the dangers, just as we have done here today.  The motion went to the policy and resources committee, and out of it came action by the council's legal department, which realised that there was legislation under which it could address the issue. That department did not wash its hands, Pontius Pilate-like; it took action because the council was forcing it into it.  I pay tribute to the council's officers for that.
I first came across legal highs when I was with OFMDFM at a meeting in the Isle of Man.  At that stage, the Isle of Man was waiting for action from Westminster, but nothing was happening.  Like the Republic, it went ahead and banned legal highs.  It realised that there were issues with such a ban, including that the drugs were not just sold in shops but could be bought online, so it was not perfect.  However, the Isle of Man made legal highs subject to an annual rolling ban, and, every year since, has continued the ban, including just recently.  The Isle of Man introduced a ban on the basis that it was in the best interests of the community that these substances were not available to young people, many of whom are impressionable.  
They realised that this material was being created not just in China but the Far East in general.  They realised that it was being brought into the UK not by legal or overt methods of trading but by hidden methods.  I was going to say "illegal", but that is probably too strong a word.  There is no regulation on this.  It is constructed in, I suppose, substandard clinics, and there are no clinical tests on it.
We may not realise it, but this is part of the war on drugs.  It is a part of the drugs trade.  As others said, it has been described as plant food, bath crystals and pond cleaner.  What type of shop, or head shop, sells those sorts of things?  They have no interest in plant food or pond cleaning.  They are selling it, purely and simply, to make huge profits, and that exploits young people and the deaths of young people, as has been referred to.  Legal highs, particularly when mixed with alcohol, create dangers.  It is difficult to see that you would not get legal highs being used at the same time as alcohol.
If you identify some components of the legal high, you will see that there is always going to be the problem of the mixture being changed.  However, that should not stop us taking whatever action we can.