The press release issued by the Home Office on 12 September 2023.
Secondary legislation brought forward to control nitrous oxide as a Class C substance.
Possession of nitrous oxide, also known as ‘laughing gas’, will be illegal by the end of the year, with users facing up to two years in prison, under a zero-tolerance approach to anti-social behaviour.
The ban was promised as part of the government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, with the Home Secretary urging police forces to get tougher on flagrant drug taking in the streets, which blights communities.
Secondary legislation was brought forward on Tuesday 5 September which will control nitrous oxide as a Class C substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The new measures are expected to come into force by the end of the year.
Nitrous oxide is the third most used drug among 16 to 24-year-olds in England and police have reported links to anti-social behaviour – intimidating gatherings on high streets and in children’s parks, and empty canisters strewn across public spaces. Heavy regular use of nitrous oxide can also lead to a deficiency of vitamin B12, a form of anaemia and in more severe cases, nerve damage or paralysis.
Those found in unlawful possession of the drug could face up to two years in prison or an unlimited fine, and up to 14 years for supply or production. There will be exemptions for legitimate uses of nitrous oxide, for example in medical or catering industries.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman said:
The British people are fed up with yobs abusing drugs in public spaces and leaving behind a disgraceful mess for others to clean up.
Earlier this year the Prime Minister and I promised a zero-tolerance approach to antisocial behaviour and that is what we are delivering. If you are caught using ‘laughing gas’ as a drug, you could be hit with a hefty fine or face jail time.
New schemes are already underway to increase police patrols in hotspot areas of antisocial behaviour and dish out punishments for perpetrators more quickly, and police will soon be able to drug test people arrested for a wider range of illegal drugs.
Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp said:
We cannot allow young people to think there are no consequences to misusing drugs.
There is no question that abusing laughing gas is dangerous to people’s health and it is paramount we take decisive action before the situation gets worse.
Not only are we making possession an offence for the first time, we are also doubling the maximum sentence for supply to 14 years, so the dealers profiting off this trade have no place to hide.
Last month another statutory instrument was laid which expands police ability to test people arrested for all Class A drugs, including ecstasy.
Over 50,000 drug tests for cocaine and opiates have been conducted on suspects arrested in the past year following government funding, with over half of these coming back positive – a clear indicator of the connection between drug misuse and crime.
We are also expanding the powers for police to test for specified Class B drugs, such as cannabis and ketamine, as well as expanding the list of suspected crimes which can trigger a drugs test to include offences linked to antisocial behaviour, along with others, when parliamentary time allows.
This testing is crucial for preventing further crime, as people are diverted towards life-changing intervention and treatment services.
CEO of Night-time Industries Association Michael Kill said:
We welcome the announcement by the government that nitrous oxide is set to be banned under new government legislation by the end of the year, but recognise that this must work hand in hand with a much broader education and harm reduction strategy on drugs across the country.
Over the years, the industry has grappled with the persistent issue of nitrous oxide’s sale and consumption, which has been exacerbated by existing regulations that have rendered licensees and authorities ill-equipped to combat this problem effectively.
The burden on businesses has been substantial, as they’ve contended with mounting pressure from authorities and residents due to the proliferation of discarded silver canisters on the streets.
This predicament has not only posed risks to the well-being of both staff and patrons but has also fostered an environment conducive to petty crime, anti-social behaviour, and the activities of organised crime syndicates.
The government’s intervention comes at a pivotal juncture, given that businesses in major cities across the United Kingdom have witnessed a significant escalation in the challenges associated with nitrous oxide over the past 6-12 months.