Shops that sell so-called legal highs should be tackled in order to protect young people, a leading think-tank has said.
‘Head shops’ operate “on the edge of legality” and could number as many as 250 in the UK, a report from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) said.
It called for a law similar to one in Ireland which dramatically reduced the number of head shops – from more than 100 to fewer than 10.
In a wide-ranging report on tackling addiction, the CSJ said that “300,000 people in England are addicted to opiates and/or crack”.
The group noted: “It has been important that the Government has resisted the naïve and dangerous calls for liberalisation of our drug laws.
“Such policies would cause even greater harm, however well-intentioned they are in formation.”
The CSJ also stated its support for abstinence-based drug recovery, describing that method as the “most effective way to overcome addiction and eliminate its costs”.
It called for a Recovery Champion for England, who would “ensure services offer people the chance to become drug-free”.
The think-tank, whose Director is Christian Guy, also criticised the Government-backed FRANK service which advises young people on drug issues.
Describing the initiative as “failing”, it said FRANK should be scrapped or reformed to “inform young people about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse”.
In comments on legal highs, the CSJ said that in the UK in 2012, “the deaths of nearly 100 people were connected to their use”.
It added that the drugs, also known as New Psychoactive Substances, are often sold in head shops or online.
“Head shops operate on the edge of legality, and are both vague and creative in the descriptions given to products”, the CSJ said.
The drugs are often labelled as plant food or pond cleaner to circumvent laws.
In Ireland a law to tackle the shops “has had considerable success in reducing the number of head shops”, the CSJ said.
It therefore called for the UK Government to introduce a similar law and “ensure that the police, regulators, companies and internet service providers (ISPs) work together to disrupt the trade of these harmful substances and protect young people”.