Poppers ‘should be exempt’ from crackdown on legal highs, MPs say

PinkNews logo on a pink background surrounded by illustrated line drawings of a rainbow, pride flag, unicorn and more.

MPs have recommended that poppers should be exempt from the government’s planned crackdown on legal highs.

A draft bill unveiled by Home Secretary Theresa May earlier this year would tackle legal highs by implementing a blanket ban on the sale of “psychoactive substances”, with those found guilty of selling them facing up to seven years in jail.

As well as substances such as nitrous oxide, known as laughing gas, being banned under the proposed laws, the alkyl nitrite drugs commonly known as poppers would also be made illegal.

The use of poppers is commonplace on the gay club scene, among men engaging in anal sex.

However, the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has this week recommended that poppers are not subjected to the blanket ban, on advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

The Select Committee’s report on the Psychoactive Substances bill notes evidence submissions from Professor Les Iversen, Chair of the ACMD, as well as groups including the National AIDS Trust, warning that criminalising them could do more harm than good.

The report officially recommends: “Professor Iversen said ‘poppers’ were ‘not seen to be capable of having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a societal problem’ and therefore we recommend they should not be banned.

“If in the future there is any evidence produced to the contrary, then ‘poppers’ should be removed from the exempted list or controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act.”

It comes after the National AIDS Trust told the Committee that banning poppers would criminalise parts of the gay community, possibly driving them underground towards other harder drugs.

The report adds: “[Professor Iversen] said that in the past the ACMD had not seen sufficient scientific evidence for harm in the case of ‘poppers’ to justify a recommendation under the Misuse of Drugs Act, and that he was not aware of any growth in the use of ‘poppers’.

“Professor Iversen subsequently wrote to us stating that, when the Council last assessed the harms associated with ‘poppers’ it concluded that the misuse of ‘poppers’ was “not seen to be capable of having harmful effects sufficient to constitute a societal problem.”
Poppers ‘should be exempt’ from crackdown on legal highs, MPs say
“Despite this assessment, the Minister told us that ‘poppers’ will be banned as part of the blanket ban.”

Minister of State for Policing and Justice, Mike Penning, said of the bill previously: “The landmark bill will fundamentally change the way we tackle new psychoactive substances – and put an end to the game of cat and mouse in which new drugs appear on the market more quickly than government can identify and ban them.

“The blanket ban will give police and other law enforcement agencies greater powers to tackle the reckless trade in psychoactive substances, instead of having to take a substance-by-substance approach.”