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Nitrous oxide to be illegal from November Published Date: 22/10/2023

Repeat serious users of nitrous oxide could face up to 2 years in prison and dealers up to 14 years, as the government delivers on its zero-tolerance approach to antisocial behaviour.

The ban, promised as part of the government’s Anti-Social Behaviour Action Plan, will make nitrous oxide a controlled Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.

Secondary legislation due to be laid today will mean possession of nitrous oxide, where a person intends to wrongfully inhale it – for example ‘to get high’ – will be an offence. Consequences could include:

  • an unlimited fine
  • a visible community punishment
  • a caution – which would appear on their criminal record
  • a prison sentence for repeat serious offenders

Earlier this year, the Home Secretary urged police forces to get tough on flagrant drug taking in local communities, with reports linking nitrous oxide to antisocial behaviour such as intimidating gatherings on high streets and in children’s parks, often leaving empty canisters scattered across public spaces.

Heavy, regular abuse of the drug also poses significant health risks for users including anaemia and in more severe cases, nerve damage or paralysis. It has been identified as having potentially fatal consequences on the UK’s roads from incidents of drug driving. 

Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp said:

We are delivering on the promise we made to take a zero-tolerance approach towards antisocial behaviour and flagrant drug taking in our public spaces.

Abuse of nitrous oxide is also dangerous to people’s health and today we are sending a clear signal to young people that there are consequences for misusing drugs. Both users and dealers will face the full force of the law for their actions.   

There are still many necessary uses for nitrous oxide and those with a legitimate reason for possessing the substance will be exempt from the ban. For example, it will continue to be lawful for catering purposes and in maternity wards when used as pain relief during labour.

Licences will not be required to carry nitrous oxide, but individual users will need to demonstrate they are lawfully in possession of nitrous oxide and not intending to consume it for psychoactive effects.

The maximum sentence for production, supply importation or exportation of the drug for unlawful purposes has now doubled, from 7 to 14 years’ imprisonment.

As is already the case, there is also a responsibility on legitimate producers and suppliers of nitrous oxide to not be reckless as to whether someone is buying their product to misuse, with no legitimate reason. Turning a blind eye will be committing an offence.

CEO of Neighbourhood Watch John Hayward-Cripps said:

At Neighbourhood Watch, we support the government’s ban on nitrous oxide under new legislation from the 8th of November.

As consumption of nitrous oxide has increased over the years, there has been a connected increase in reports of antisocial behaviour, including the littering of nitrous oxide canisters. For communities across the country, the banning of the substance under new legislation will be a positive move towards tackling antisocial behaviour, and making local communities a better and safer place to live.

Once the legislation has come into effect, we encourage members of the public to report any illegal consumption of nitrous oxide or other drugs to their local police.

CEO of Night-time Industries Association Michael Kill said:

We welcome the announcement by the government today that nitrous oxide is set to be banned under new government legislation by the 8th of November, but recognise that this must work hand in hand with a much broader education and harm reduction strategy on drugs across the country.

The burden on businesses has been substantial, as they’ve contended with mounting pressure from authorities and residents due to the proliferation of discarded silver canisters on the streets.

This predicament has not only posed risks to the wellbeing of both staff and patrons but has also fostered an environment conducive to petty crime, antisocial behaviour, and the activities of organised crime syndicates.