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Why I welcome the law to make nitrous oxide (NOS) possession illegal

It will come as no surprise to many of you, that I wholeheartedly welcome the introduction of today’s law to make possession of nitrous oxide illegal. For some time now I have been campaigning for this to happen, and I am delighted to see this important change in the law go live from today (November 8).

In my role as Association of Police and Crime Commissioners’ (APCC) Joint Lead for Addictions and Substance Misuse, with co-chair Durham PCC Joy Allen, I have repeatedly raised concerns over the past two years - publicly and directly with the Government - about the prevalence of nitrous oxide in a bid for stronger legislation surrounding this harmful drug. From initially leading calls for a review on nitrous oxide, to vigorously lobbying the Home Office for a potential crackdown on the drug, I am proud to have been part of the fight to achieve this vital change, protecting our young people and communities in Dorset and beyond. I used my platform to call for serious discussion on the issue, lobbying tirelessly to ensure recommendations made in the subsequent report were taken further to give the police and courts the powers to crack down on those who supply this drug to children and young people. To now see this law in action, benefitting every county in the country, is a key milestone in my ongoing fight to protect the most vulnerable in our communities.

This new law will mean those who repeatedly misuse the drug could face up to two years in prison, while dealers of nitrous oxide, will face up to 14 years behind bars. This ban will make nitrous oxide a controlled Class C drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Penalties for possessing the substance could include an unlimited fine, community service, caution, or more serious custodial sentence for repeat offenders. Of course, there will exemptions for legitimate reasons, such as in maternity wards for pain relief during labour.

I know the sight of those silver cannisters and balloon litter strewn across our parks, beaches and playgrounds was a cause for concern in communities across Dorset. As your Police and Crime Commissioner, it is my mission to ensure anti-social behaviour is tackled, ensuring you feel safe where you live and work. I hope this legislation will go some way towards this and give police the tools to deal with the issues which affect your community.

The biggest motivation to tackling nitrous oxide came from the impact this drug has on the health of our young people. Back in 2021, after calling for action, I welcomed a review into the harm caused by nitrous oxide, or NOS as it is also known. The use of this drug was becoming normalised among young people in Dorset and was increasingly being used a recreational drug we were told by youth workers. Using it was seen as ‘harmless fun’ despite the side-effects of heavy use potentially causing nerve-related symptoms such as being unable to walk, and loss of sensation. These concerns have been repeatedly raised by medical experts, with neurologists publishing new treatment guidelines for wider NHS use earlier this year (February 2023, Queen Mary University of London).

When the report from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs was published in March 2023, it suggested additional measures were needed to reduce the health and social harms of nitrous oxide. It recommended the Government focus on non-legitimate routes of supply including restricting direct-to-consumer sales, restrictions on cannister sizes that are not for legitimate use and restrictions on the volume of sales customers can purchase. But this didn’t go far enough. I - along with my co-chair – called for further action to be taken, highlighting evidence which also linked nitrous oxide with needless deaths and serious injury on roads across the country. Now, just a few months later, to get to this day where possession of nitrous oxide is illegal, is a huge step in the right direction towards tackling substance misuse.

But I know there is much more still to do. Tackling the issue of drugs in Dorset is a priority in my Police and Crime Plan. Whether this is through continuing to lobby over the harmful effects of cannabis, to leading the multi-agency Combatting Drugs Partnership in Dorset, I remain committed to making Dorset the safest county to live.

David Sidwick

Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner



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