The press release issued by the Home Office on 8 November 2023.
Possession of ‘laughing gas’ is now illegal with repeat serious users facing up to 2 years in prison and dealers up to 14 years.
The ban, promised as part of the government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, makes nitrous oxide a Class C drug controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. This means possession of nitrous oxide, where a person intends to wrongfully inhale it for a psychoactive effect, is now an offence.
Consequences could include an unlimited fine, a visible community punishment, a caution (which would appear on their criminal record) and for repeat serious offenders, a prison sentence.
Earlier this year the Home Secretary urged police forces to get tougher on flagrant drug taking in local communities, with reports linking nitrous oxide to anti-social behaviour such as intimidating gatherings on high streets and in children’s parks, and often leaving empty canisters scattered across public spaces. This summer it was reported that there were 13 tonnes of canisters of nitrous oxide collected after the Notting Hill carnival.
Heavy, regular abuse of the drug also poses significant health risks for users including anaemia and in more severe cases, nerve damage or paralysis. It has been identified as having potentially fatal consequences on the UK’s roads from incidents of drug driving.
Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp said:
Today we are sending a clear signal to people, especially young people, that not only is abuse of nitrous oxide dangerous to their health, but it is also illegal and those caught possessing it will face consequences.
For too long the use of this drug in public spaces has contributed to anti-social behaviour which is a blight on communities. We will not accept it. This law gives the police the powers they need to take a zero-tolerance approach to this crime.
There are still many necessary uses for nitrous oxide in healthcare and other industries, and those with a legitimate reason for possessing the substance will be exempt from the ban. For example it will continue to be lawful for catering purposes and in maternity wards when used as pain relief during labour, as well as for other activities such as use in industry, dentistry, or model rocketry.
Licences will not be required to carry nitrous oxide, but individual users will need to demonstrate they are lawfully in possession of nitrous oxide and not intending to wrongfully inhale it.
The maximum sentence for production, supply importation or exportation of the drug for unlawful purposes has now doubled, from 7 to 14 years’ imprisonment.
As is already the case, there is also a responsibility on legitimate producers and suppliers of nitrous oxide to not be reckless as to whether someone is buying their product for wrongful inhalation, with no legitimate reason. Suppliers who ignore the risk that their customers may be intending to misuse the drug could also be committing an offence.
If people are concerned about nitrous oxide use in their local area such as in parks and playgrounds they can report this anti-social behaviour to their local neighbourhood policing team, the police or Crimestoppers.
CEO of Neighbourhood Watch John Hayward-Cripps said:
At Neighbourhood Watch, we support the government’s ban on nitrous oxide.
As consumption of nitrous oxide has increased over the years, there has been a connected increase in reports of anti-social behaviour, including the littering of nitrous oxide canisters. For communities across the country, this change in the law will be a positive move towards tackling anti-social behaviour and making local communities a better and safer place to live.
We encourage members of the public to report any illegal consumption of nitrous oxide or other drugs to their local police force.
CEO of Night-time Industries Association Michael Kill said:
We welcome this ban but recognise that this must work hand in hand with a much broader education and harm reduction strategy on drugs across the country.
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.