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Sarah Newton: Education and support are key to tackle Spice in Government’s new Drug Strategy

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Fact sheet, Ministerial opinion

Sarah Newton

In recent days there has been media coverage focusing on the class B drug known as 'Spice' after Greater Manchester Police reported an increase in the number of Spice-related incidents.

Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism Sarah Newton has written an opinion piece in the Manchester Gazette to reiterate our message that tackling drugs is a priority for this government. She also makes clear that synthetic cannabinoids contained in Spice were re-classified as class B drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act last December, making possession a criminal offence.

A fact sheet setting out the Government's position on important drug-related issues is also included at the bottom of this page.

Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism Sarah Newton said:

Drugs don’t just harm the individuals using them. They can devastate whole families, and the communities around them – the same communities where we all live, work and bring up our children. Recent reports of a surge in serious incidents involving Spice in Manchester highlight just how damaging illegal substances can be – and brings home why tackling them is important for this Government.


I have been appalled to see the photographs showing the impact the drug can have on those who take it. We have known about the devastating consequences of Spice for some time, and we have acted to give police the powers they need to take action, making third generation synthetic cannabinoids Class B drugs on a par with ketamine and amphetamines. We will continue to monitor its impact and if we need to do more, we will.


In the last few days, I have heard some people saying the Government was wrong to ban so-called ‘legal highs’ through last year’s Psychoactive Substances Act. I could not disagree more.


Until we outlawed them, people could go into a shop and, quite legally, walk out with a quantity of a “legal high” – a manufactured substance, like Spice, cooked up in a lab without any proper controls or tests to examine the impact it would have on somebody’s health. We could not allow that situation to persist. It was costing lives.


The Psychoactive Substances Act is working. It means we can stay one step ahead of the people cooking up dangerous new, slightly different chemical compounds to try to remain on the right side of the law. It has given police the powers they needed. Hundreds of retailers across the United Kingdom have either closed down or are no longer selling psychoactive substances, making the drugs much harder to access. Police have arrested hundreds of dealers, some of whom are now behind bars with many more cases progressing through the courts.


For some substances previously referred to as “legal highs” we have gone further, because they pose a particular threat to the public. That is true of Spice, and the synthetic cannabinoids which it contains, which we controlled as a Class B drug, giving police more powers to take action, including making possession illegal and delivering longer sentences for dealers.


Enforcement work is crucially important, but isn’t the only way we’re dealing with the problem of drugs like Spice. We are also focusing on vital education and support for people who are dependent on drugs and others, like children, the homeless and others who could be vulnerable. The Government’s new Drug Strategy, which will be published shortly, will build on our work to educate young people and treat those who need help.


For the sake of our communities, we cannot afford to treat these drugs anything but extremely seriously, and I believe the action we’re taking clearly shows we are working to stamp them out.


Fact sheet: Drugs


  • There has been a reduction in drug misuse among adults and young people compared with a decade ago in England and Wales, from 10.5% in 2005/6 to 8.4% in 2015/16.
  • Among 11 to 15 year olds, drug use has continued to fall since a peak in 2003 (from 21% in 2003 to 10% in 2014).
  • In 2015/16, 31,000 adults left treatment successfully, compared to 27,000 in 2009/10 and the average waiting time to access treatment remains at three days.
  • The social and economic cost of drug supply in the UK is estimated to be £10.7 billion a year – just over half of which (£6 billion) is attributed to drug-related acquisitive crime.

New Psychoactive Substances and ‘Spice’          

  • The Government passed the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 to restrict the production and supply of any so-called ‘legal highs’.
  • Since it came into force, over 300 retailers across the UK have either closed down or are no longer selling psychoactive substances; police have arrested suppliers; and action by the National Crime Agency has resulted in the removal of psychoactive substances being sold by UK based websites. The first offenders have been jailed under the new powers, with more cases going through the criminal justice system.
  • Synthetic cannabinoids have emerged in the UK since 2008. The third generation synthetic cannabinoids such as those found in Spice were re-classified as class B drugs in December 2016. We continue to monitor their impact.
  • This has made them subject to further controls including making possession illegal, punishable by a maximum five year sentence.

Legalisation, decriminalisation and medical use of illegal drugs

  • This Government has no plans to decriminalise drugs nor to legalise cannabis.
  • Cannabis is controlled as a class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and, in its raw form, currently has no recognised medicinal benefits in the UK.
  • Before being placed on the market, all medicines have to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) so that doctors and patients are sure of their efficacy and safety. The Government’s view is that cannabis should be subjected to the same regulatory framework. The MHRA is open to considering marketing approval applications for medicinal cannabis products.
  • Both the 2010 Drug Strategy and the Modern Crime Prevention Strategy recognise the potential of prescribed pharmaceutical diamorphine in helping people to recover from heroin dependence.
  • There is evidence from the UK, and other countries, that supervised use of this in a medical environment as part of a treatment plan can help keep patients in treatment and out of criminal behaviour.
  • A drug consumption room is a facility where drug users, particularly injecting drug users, are permitted to use illicit drugs without fear of arrest. Drug consumption rooms are illegal in the UK and the Government has no plans to introduce them.
  • Funding decisions on drug and alcohol treatment budgets have been devolved to local authorities, empowering them to develop their own ways of improving public health in their local populations.

Drug Strategy

  • The Government’s forthcoming Drug Strategy will build on the work already undertaken to prevent drug use in our communities and help dependent individuals, including homeless people and those in prisons, to rebuild their lives.


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