NI: Psychoactive Substances Act enters force this Spring

Justice Minister David Ford
Justice Minister David Ford

The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 will come into force in Northern Ireland this Spring, Justice Minister David Ford has said.

The new law prohibits the production, supply and importation of so-called ‘legal highs’, and will see offenders face up to seven years in prison.

It also creates offences of possessing a psychoactive substance in a custodial institution or possessing a psychoactive substance with intent to supply.

Mr Ford said: “The Psychoactive Substances Act will considerably enhance the powers available to our enforcement agencies to stop those intent on supplying these harmful substances here in Northern Ireland and across the UK.

“The Act is an important milestone in the efforts of the Westminster Government and the Devolved Administrations and represents a significant change in approach to the emergence of these substances.

“My Department, alongside others within the Executive, will continue to work with both the Home Office and key partners across Northern Ireland to prepare for commencement of the new law in the spring of this year.”

Ciarán Moynagh
Ciarán Moynagh

Belfast solicitor Ciarán Moynagh of McLernon Moynagh Solicitors told Irish Legal News that the new legislation may not effectively tackle the use of psychoactive substances.

Mr Moynagh suggested the law resembled the “populist punitiveness” of the UK government’s 2008 decision to reclassify cannabis as a class B drug, which has not prevented arrests and charges on possession of cannabis on a “daily basis”.

He added: “Whilst the law does not purely criminalise the possession (with the exception of possession in a custodial institution), which is hugely positive, many a young person can easily buy this online for themselves or friends and may fall foul of the offences of importing or supplying it.

“The criminal justice system or youth court is not the place people consuming these substances need to be. A fine or short custodial sentence may not act as a sufficient deterrent and certainly will not provide insight into the devastating effects these substances have.”

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