The Recent Spice Epidemic

This isn’t an influx in Indian takeaway restaurants on your street corner nor is your grandfather’s old aftershave coming back into fashion. We reported last year on the effect that Spice was having within the prison systems, this year there have been countless reports of people being found in “Zombie” like states and now this week reports that pupils at a North West school having been found using the drug.

This is clearly a real problem affecting communities far and wide. It is a drug that is causing towns across the country to resemble scenes from HBO’s The Walking Dead, and this isn’t an exaggeration having witnessed first hand the effects of Spice in our home town of Manchester, particularly involving the homeless community.

People can be forgiven for believing that Spice is just one single drug like many of the drugs on our streets today; heroin, cocaine, cannabis, etc. Sadly, this isn’t the case with Spice as its formulation tends to be a variety of chemicals produced to mimic the effects of other drugs, particularly cannabis. It is an attractive proposition to the consumer because it is cheaper than other well known street drugs and can often have a longer lasting, more intense impact.

You may be familiar with the terminology “synthetic cannabinoids”. This is a reference to the chemicals developed to act like the main ingredient of cannabis (THC). The reason as to the devastating impact of Spice is that the combination of chemicals is changing frequently hence the unpredictable reaction of many consumers.

Is Spice Illegal?

Spice was originally considered to be a “legal high”. After the realisation of the impact of this substance, many of the chemicals found in Spice were considered psychoactive. As such, the common ingredients of Spice were then caught by the introduction of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, which made it a criminal offence to supply it (but not to be in possession of it for one’s own use).

The Government recognised that this was a problem which wasn’t easing and, if anything, was only becoming worse. Many in the legal profession will have now noticed that charges involving the supply of Spice are now being brought under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. Why the change? Well, there was an amendment to Schedule 2 (the list of controlled substances) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 in January 2017. The common components and chemicals found in Spice have now been classified under Class B of the Act. This will allow the Courts to be much tougher when it comes to sentence as opposed to sentencing under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.

Having dealt with many clients recently concerning the supply of Spice, it is clear that the Courts are trying to relay a message into the community that it will not be tolerated. That message being really tough sentences.

How do the Police Know if a Drug is Spice?

So, if you now come across a charge sheet at the Magistrates Court that specifies the offence of ‘Supplying Spice’. This will need to be challenged. It is the components of the Spice that you need to be concerned with and whether they are classified under Class B. In light of this, it is vital that solicitors understand the law when advising their clients in interviews. A client will not know whether the substance found in their possession contains Class B components, and at the time of arrest, the Police will not be aware either until the substance has been forensically analysed. If in the case of a dealing offence such as supply or possession with intent to supply, he or she were to answer the questions in interview and be asked to describe the effect that the drug has upon the user, regardless of forensic testing, this may provide the prosecution with sufficient evidence to justify a charge of an offence under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 which only needs to be capable of producing a psychoactive effect in a person who consumes it, regardless of what components it contains.

As the chemicals found in Spice continue to vary, I suspect that this will not be the last amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act in order to try and combat a widespread epidemic.

Anthony Smith