Powers to quickly put in place year-long bans of so-called ‘legal highs’ will be given to the Home Office as part of an overhaul of current drugs legislation.
Watch an ITN News report on the temporary ban
And alcoholics and drug addicts who refuse treatment could have their welfare benefits withdrawn under plans being considered by the Home Office.
Ministers hope the new powers over legal highs will help take new substances off the market while a comprehensive review of their potential harm is carried out.
The move comes after Ivory Wave, which is sold as bath salts, was linked to last week’s death of 24-year-old father, Michael Bishton, of the Isle of Wight.
Ivory Wave is sold legally for £15 a packet and has become popular as an alternative to illicit drugs.
Outlining plans to introduce the temporary bans by the end of next year, James Brokenshire, the Crime Prevention Minister, said: “The drugs market is changing and we need to adapt current laws to allow us to act more quickly.
“The temporary ban allows us to act straight away to stop new substances gaining a foothold in the market, and help us tackle unscrupulous drug dealers trying to get round the law by peddling dangerous chemicals to young people.”
But he added that anyone tempted to try a legal high “must understand it is not safe or sensible to take a substance when you do not know what it is or what is in it – especially when some are claimed to be pond cleaner or bath salts”.
The ban will send a clear message to users that these substances carry a risk and will prevent new chemicals becoming widely available, the Home Office said.
Under the proposals, police will be able to confiscate suspected substances and the UK Border Agency will seize shipments entering the country. Anyone caught supplying a banned substance will face a maximum 14-year jail sentence and an unlimited fine.
But possession for personal use would not be deemed a criminal offence in a bid “to prevent the unnecessary criminalisation of young people”, the Home Office said.
The Home Office also announced plans to withdraw welfare benefits from drug addicts and alcoholics who refuse treatment.
The plans are part of a consultation paper on the Government’s drug strategy for England, Wales and Scotland.
The proposals would mark the revival of a previous Labour Government scheme which aimed to help get drug users back into work.
Social security advisers warn that the move could send addicts back into a life of crime.
But a former drugs and alcohol addict, Jeff Groves, 39, from Hayes, welcomed the plans.
He said if he had faced having his benefit money cut, it would have forced him to address his addiction earlier.
“It’s good to force people into treatment, in order to show drug addicts that there is another way,” he said.
A Home Office spokesperson said the Government would “carefully consider” responses, but it was “determined to prevent drug use and strengthen enforcement against supply”.
“That’s why we are asking experts for their views on a range of issues including whether we should strengthen the link between benefits, and drug and alcohol use, so that users are strongly encouraged to address their dependency,” he said.