Ministers are reportedly preparing to ban the sale and possession of laughing gas in England and Wales in an attempt to clamp down on antisocial behaviour.
The plan would likely place laughing gas, otherwise known as nitrous oxide, in the same drug classification as cannabis, resulting in those found with the drug in public being prosecuted, according to the Times.
Nitrous oxide was used by about 230,000 people in the year ending June 2022, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, which is around half as many as those who reported use in the year ending March 2020.
The gas is typically sold in small metal canisters and inhaled from balloons. Its recreational use was made illegal in 2016, under the Psychoactive Substances Act, but remains widely available due to its other functional uses.
Policing minister Chris Philp has now reportedly called for a review of the harms of nitrous oxide to be fast-tracked to April.
Rishi Sunak addressed the topic in his new year’s speech earlier this month and said discarded ”nitrous oxide canisters in children’s playgrounds” are a sign of antisocial behaviour, which he called a “gateway to more extreme crimes”.
David Badcock, CEO of Drug Science, told leafie: “Drug deaths in the UK are at record highs, with thousands dying from opiate poisoning each year, as well as hundreds from cocaine.
“So it begs the question why the government is focusing on nitrous oxide, instead of much more pressing matters.
“Drug policy should be about people’s lives, not public nuisance. And the UK deserves reasoned, evidence-based legislation which doesn’t criminalise people for no real benefit, and which doesn’t worsen — or ignore — vulnerable people’s problems.”
Drug Science took to Twitter to say: “As @ProfDavidNutt mentions, this is nothing more than a political gimmick to demonstrate that the Government is doing ‘something’ about drug problems.
“The biggest problem with recreational Nitrous Oxide use is the drug litter! #CleanUpCanisters”
The Times report that those with a “legitimate reason” will be exempt from the ban, such as chefs who use nitrous oxide to make whipped cream or doctors and dentists who use it for pain relief.
Changes to nitrous oxide legislation have been anticipated since September 2021, when then Home Secretary Priti Patel requested a review of its harms by the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).
In September 2022, Suella Braverman also called for the harm of nitrous oxide to be reviewed.