Leeds and legal Highs: One year on from the ban
Words by Luke Hudson
If you walked through Leeds a year ago it wouldn’t be difficult to find a “head shop”, and procure legal highs.
Getting your hands on these synthetic substances was as easy as buying a top in one of our high street stores.
But since the 2016 change in legislation, these drugs have been outlawed meaning head shops – stores that sell items associated with drug use – are unable to sell these products amongst their other wares.
In Leeds, this has impacted heavily on traders.
The student area of Headingley used to have a head shop on its high street. Sitting between estate agents and restaurants was Red Eye. They sold legal highs before the ban, but then re-branded as a skate shop – which eventually shut down permanently.
Now, a healthy eating café takes its place.
A short walk away takes you to Hyde Park Corner, and the former shop front of Rude Boy sitting derelict with graffiti and disrepair. On sale here with psychoactive substances were bongs, grinders and other tools commonly used for smoking cannabis.
There is currently no law against selling or buying such products, unless the supplier knows or believes that they will be used for illegal drugs. This makes it difficult to prosecute. A lawful defence is that a bong could be used to smoke tobacco even if it displays an illustration of a cannabis leaf, or has outlandish gas mask attachments.
Leeds head shop Fantasia, though no longer selling banned substances, continues to sell drug related paraphernalia after winning a legal battle in 2015 that saw their conviction quashed. There was simply no evidence that the shop owners knew customers would use bongs and grinders for illegal purposes – tobacco use is plausible.
In Kirkgate Market, Wendy’s Smoking Accessories has closed down. The premises looked like a sweet shop filled with colourful packets of research chemicals and other strange substances. In its place a bazaar sells frying pans and toilet paper.
Over the road from the market is Herman Vapes, formerly Dr Hermans Hed Shop. Since last year the business has moved into the popular vape market. Despite the change of focus, the usual drug related products are still on sale.
Mirrors, trays and even hoover-shaped sniffers can be purchased at Herman Vapes, the implication is that they be used for cocaine or other powdered drugs. Again though, perfectly legal.
Whilst the market for psychoactive substances has now been driven underground, the ban and its accompanying legislation makes it easier to prosecute dealers who sell former legal highs alongside their usual drugs.
Another success is the reduced number of new substances being manufactured and brought into Britain. Police were encountering legal highs with little knowledge of what these potentially dangerous drugs consisted of.
In addition to this, DCI Warren Stevenson from West Yorkshire Police said anti-social behaviour around the Leeds head shops has “completely stopped”, and there have been fewer ambulance callouts linked to psychoactive substances.
Though some people may argue that the war on drugs is one that can never be won, the blanket ban has undoubtedly sent a strong message – legal highs do not belong in Leeds.