Psychoactive substances Contents

7 The role of enforcement agencies


62.The Bill creates a range of criminal offences95 and provides for four civil sanctions.96 It is intended that these will enable the police and local authorities to adopt a graded response in appropriate cases. The Local Government Association told us that, whilst the police would take the lead on major criminal activity relating to NPS, the four civil powers offered scope for the continued involvement of trading standards teams to deal with lower level offending.97 However, Trading Standards Scotland believed that the Bill would shift the role of enforcement towards the police.98

63.The Home Office state that UK enforcement organisations already deliver a range of enforcement action to tackle unlawful behaviour by NPS retailers. Therefore, they have estimated that “after an initial peak in enforcement activity, enforcement of this Bill should be cost neutral with possible cost savings over time once the NPS market has been tackled and detection/enforcement becomes business as usual.”99

64.Many of the written submissions we received did not share this view. Some said that the introduction of additional legislation would stretch scarce resources further, running the risk that it would be “toothless”.100 Additionally, a number of submissions referred to extra costs incurred through testing substances in order to prove their psychoactive effect, as discussed in chapter 4.101

65.Given the pressure on budgets, some submissions suggested resources would not be available to make the enforcement of the Bill a priority.102 Newcastle City Council questioned whether police forces had the capacity to take a consistent approach across their area, and whether this would be a priority within each area’s local policing plan.103 Release and Transform argued that enforcement was “unlikely to be placed at the top of the policing list”, and referred to the position taken in the Durham Police Force area where the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Ron Hogg, announced that the Durham force had deprioritised prosecuting those who use cannabis or grow plants for personal use. They quoted Mr Hogg as saying “There’s a resource issue, we must also be clear about that, but we are doing it because it’s the right approach”. This approach has been backed by the PCCs from Derbyshire and Dorset.104

66.We remind the Government that in our previous Report we suggest that more effective action be taken by trading standards against retailers. The powers contained in the Bill will provide enforcement agencies with the tools to address the problems associated with NPS more effectively and we would expect that in areas where the sale and supply of NPS is high, the new powers will be welcomed by enforcement agencies. However, the level of priority accorded to this in each area (of England and Wales) will be decided by the Police and Crime Commissioner. We urge PCCs carefully to consider the significant risk which NPS can present, particularly to young people in their communities, when making these assessments. Chief Constables should also inform the public of the steps that they have taken with regard to NPS by publishing an action plan on their websites.

95 Producing a psychoactive substance; supplying, or offering to supply, a psychoactive substance; possession of psychoactive substance with intent to supply; and importing or exporting a psychoactive substance

96 Prohibition notices; premises notices; prohibition orders; and premises orders

97 Local Government Association (PAS015)

98 The Scottish Government (PAS024), Trading Standards Scotland - Cosla (PAS036)

99 Home Office (PAS042)

100 Chartered Trading Standards Institute (PAS027), Crew (PAS010), Portsmouth NPS Working Group (PAS034)

101 Dr Richard Stevenson (PAS011), Newcastle City Council (PAS023), London Drug and Alcohol Policy Forum (PAS041)

102 London Drug and Alcohol Policy Forum (PAS041)

103 Newcastle City Council (PAS023)

104 Release and Transform (PAS028)

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Prepared 22 October 2015