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Home Kent News Article
A major government summit into legal highs was being held today - after KentOnline launched a campaign to crack down on the potentially deadly substances.
The first meeting of the government review is being headed up by Home Office minister Norman Baker.
It will analyse how the UK’s laws can be improved, to protect people from the highs which produce similar effects to illegal drugs such as cocaine, cannabis and ecstasy.
The review was launched last December following concerns about the health risks behind the substances.
It comes after a Gravesend youngster died from what's believed to be a legal high, and it was revealed the county has more of the so-called head shops than any other in the UK.
Speaking to KentOnline last month, crime prevention minister Norman Baker MP said: “I’ve asked for a review because I want to see how best we can control these substances.
“I think it’s important in the meantime to stress to young people in particular that they’re called legal highs but some of them are actually illegal because they contain illegal substances.
“We are taking action but we’ve got to face it as a world, this is a new situation.
"I think we’re probably in the top five per cent of countries in the world in terms of the action we are taking but we need to do more and that’s what this review’s about.”
Those attending today’s meeting include Government drug tsar Professor Les Iversen and the director of the National Crime Agency's organised crime command Gordon Meldrum.It is also believed police will be amongst the drug experts.
The panel will consider a number of different models such as those adopted in Ireland, New Zealand and the United States.
Canterbury and Whitstable’s MP Julian Brazier wrote a letter to the Minister last month, urging him to consider other approaches to legislation to ban legal highs, such as those in Ireland.
He wrote: "I understand that in Ireland selling a substance which causes harm has become a de facto criminal offence by shifting the burden of proof to the shop."
Chatham and Aylesford MP Tracey Crouch has also expressed her concerns to the minister following deaths and injuries across Kent, as a result of legal highs.
Mr Baker said: “They are representing their constituents and are expressing their concerns about the availability of some of these substances around the place and the role of head shops.”
The meeting comes a month after Mr Baker announced the coalition Government would be opting out of European Commission regulations on the substances.
The guidelines involve only the most harmful substances being subject to full criminalisation.
However Mr Baker decided the EU approach is ‘unhelpful’ and ‘less effective’ than what the UK is doing.
Instead, Mr Baker’s main focus is the government review. While it is under way, he is urging those across Kent to understand ‘legal’ does not translate as ‘safe’.
He said: "Just because we haven’t got round to banning them yet, and we have banned hundreds of these substances already, if some are out there which are still unbanned, it doesn’t mean they’re safe. They may actually be far more dangerous than existing drugs on the market."
A conclusion of the review is due to be delivered by the summer.
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