The legal high ban and Leeds – one year on


By Luke Hudson

If you walked through Leeds a year ago it wouldn’t be difficult to find a “head shop”, and procure legal highs.

Getting your hands on these synthetic substances was as easy as buying a top in a high street store.

But since the change in legislation, these drugs have been outlawed meaning head shops – stores that sell items associated with drug use – are unable to stock these products amongst their other wares.

In Leeds, this has impacted heavily on traders.

The busy student area of Headingley used to have a head shop on its high street. Sitting between estate agents and restaurants was Red Eye. This business sold legal highs before the ban, after which the premises became a skate shop.

Now, a healthy eating café takes its place.

A short walk away takes you to Hyde Park Corner, and the derelict, graffiti’d shop front of Rude Boy. On sale with psychoactive substances were bongs, grinders and other apparatus commonly used for smoking cannabis.

Rude Boy after the ban

There is currently no law against selling or buying such products, unless the supplier knows or believes that they will be used for illegal drugs. This makes it difficult to prosecute. A defence is that a bong could be used legitimately to smoke tobacco; grinders and other pipes could also be used in this way.

Even if the bongs in question display the cannabis leaf, or have outlandish gas mask attachments, the law is unwavering.

This was evident in the case of Leeds head shop Fantasia.

Though no longer selling the banned substances, the shop continues to sell a range of paraphernalia after winning a court battle overturning the owners’ prosecution.

In Kirkgate Market, Wendy’s Smoking Accessories, a stall selling legal highs, has closed down. Now, a bazaar sells frying pans and toilet paper.

Close to the market is Herman Vapes, formerly Dr Hermans Hed Shop. Since the ban the business has moved into the popular vape market. The usual drug related products are still on sale here, and so not a total rebrand into the vaping world.

Mirrors, trays and hoover-shaped sniffers can be purchased at Herman Vapes, the obvious implication that they be used for the consumption of cocaine or other drugs in powder form. Again though, no crimes have been committed.

Drug related products

Despite the head shops continuing to supply these items, the ban has still been a success.

Whilst the market for these psychoactive substances has been driven underground, the blanket ban and new legislation makes it easier to prosecute drug dealers who now sell former legal highs with their usual drugs.

Prior to the ban, police were seeing two new substances a week. Untested unsafe chemicals were being mass produced at an alarming rate. Currently there are the same 15 substances appearing nationwide, this includes Nitrous Oxide and synthetic cannabinoids.

Other benefits to West Yorkshire are a reduced number of ambulance callouts relating to legal highs. Anti-social behaviour has also decreased in the areas surrounding Leeds head shops.

DCI Warren Stevenson said last year : “We have tried to ensure that all retail outlets – shops, garages, market stalls and internet suppliers are aware of their obligations under the new act and that their organisations or business are not selling or in any other way dealing in psychoactive substances”. And in Leeds this has certainly been accomplished.

It is hoped that the effects of the change in legislation will continue in years to come and that emergency services will see incidents become even less frequent.

The war on drugs is one that some people might believe can perhaps never be won. Shops continue to stock products connected with drug use and people can go to a drug dealer to get what they want. Even so, if just one death has been prevented because of the ban then many will consider that this can only be a good thing. What matters to the majority is that these substances are not on the high street.


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