UK Bans Recreational Use of Nitrous Oxide

London (AFP) – The United Kingdom has made it illegal to possess nitrous oxide for recreational purposes, with penalties of up to two years in prison for repeat offenders and up to 14 years for dealers.

In recent decades, the sale of small canisters of nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, has increased, particularly among young people who use it to achieve a quick high. However, doctors have warned about the potential health risks associated with prolonged use, including anaemia, nerve damage, and spinal injuries. Additionally, the discarded canisters have become a common sight in urban and suburban areas, often linked to anti-social behavior.

The ban, initially proposed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government in March, has now been implemented under the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act. This move is part of a broader effort to tackle lawlessness ahead of an expected general election next year, with the ruling Tories hoping to regain their position as the party known for strong law and order policies.

Policing Minister Chris Philp emphasized the government’s commitment to protect public health and combat anti-social behavior. He stated, “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. For too long, the use of this drug in public spaces has contributed to anti-social behavior, which is a blight on communities. We will not accept it.”

With the new legislation, the police now have the necessary powers to take a zero-tolerance approach to the possession of nitrous oxide. Philp warned that offenders will face consequences for possessing the drug, indicating a stronger crackdown on this crime.

Previously, British law already forbade the “knowing or reckless” supply of nitrous oxide for inhalation outside of medical use. However, due to easy availability online and on the streets, the canisters have remained accessible. Under the new regulations, possessing the drug with the intent to inhale it for a psychoactive effect is considered an offense.

Penalties for breaching the law include an unlimited fine, a visible community punishment, or a caution that will appear on an individual’s criminal record. Serious repeat offenders may face imprisonment, with the maximum sentence for production, supply, importation, or exportation of the drug for unlawful purposes doubled from seven to 14 years.

It is important to note that nitrous oxide continues to be used in healthcare, catering, and other industries. Individuals with legitimate reasons for possessing the substance are exempt from the ban, as stated by the interior ministry.