New Legal Highs Blanket Ban to Drive the Industry Underground

Over 450 head shops and online sellers will be affected by the blanket ban on new psychoactive substances to be imposed by the authorities, as they debate on the issue this week.

The industry of legal highs in the UK, which ban will take effect in April next year according to the Home Office, is an industry making 40 percent of profit (£32M) every year out an £82M turnover. Part of such development though, authorities warned that the blanket ban would drive this booming legal highs business underground.

They added that online grey marketplaces selling NPS and social media would become alternatives to public websites and high street head shops, which are more likely to be shut down by the blanket ban on legal highs, when its implementation started.

Authorities reveal, not only that the NPS business is growing rapidly with about two new products introduced every week, but the trade is also becoming harder to regulate or control because its trade components are based in many countries.

Part of the problem, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction’s annual report, is the rise in purity and potency of illicit drugs, such as cannabis, something that fuels health concerns of those using more potent products. And according to drug experts, this trend was driven by competition from legal highs as well as technological advancements.

And if before drug trade online was publicly searchable, with over 650 websites selling NPS to Europeans were discovered 18 months ago, now the trade is shifting into grey marketplaces, operational both on the surface and deep/concealed web.

In countries, such as Ireland and Poland where blanket bans have been imposed, an immediate impact on the availability was seen after head shops closed down, a factor that moved the trade into the illegal street or online, said Paul Griffiths, scientific director of the EU Drug Agency.

He added that his office has identified illicit drugs sale started into deep web or cryptomarkets, venues only accessible using encryption software, allowing the trade of goods and services to take place between parties without them being tracked. And there is also evidence of the emergence of ‘grey marketplaces,’ websites selling NPS and operating both on the surface and deep web, internet inaccessible by standard search engines and where drug sale takes place only within marketplaces, between individuals and within decentralized networks

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