Following the recent change in law which now makes it illegal to possess the drug 'Spice', officers in Westminster have been carrying out a number of operations in the borough to advise the community of the new legislation following a particular issue with the drug in the area.
Last month, the government classified strains of synthetic cannabinoids - which are commonly referred to as ‘spice’ - as a Class B controlled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (MDA). This means that those found to be in possession of it could face up to five years’ imprisonment and an unlimited fine.
The change follows expert advice from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs on the harm associated with these substances which are similar to drugs already controlled under the MDA. Prior to this time it was only illegal to deal the drug.
This law change will allow police to stop, search and arrest individuals in possession of ‘spice’. They will also be able to seize the drug to protect vulnerable people from its dangerous effects.
Police in Westminster have welcomed the change in legislation. Officers have experienced first hand the dangers of the drug, including a number of vulnerable people collapsing in the street, or falling unconscious; as well as an increase in anti-social behaviour and violent crime associated with use of the drug.
Previous efforts to tackle those selling the drug on the streets of Westminster saw officers use a range of tactics to disrupt the sellers. This resulted in 18 arrests for supply offences since the Psychoactive Substances Act was introduced and the seizure of large quantities of the drug.
Following the new legislation, Operation Kaskara has been running for two weeks, with a dispersal zone in place and a number of officers from the Safer Neighbourhoods teams deployed across the borough to deal with anti-social behaviour, crime related to ‘spice’, as well as signposting individuals to support services. This operation has already resulted in five arrests and 14 people have been directed to leave some of the key hotspots affected by ‘spice’.
Detective Superintendent Jane Corrigan, from Westminster Borough, said: "From late December into early January, we have been actively involved in educating users about the dangers, signposting users to support services to get the message out there. Operation Kaskara aims to tackle the impact of ‘Spice’ within the heart of London providing a deterrent to those who want to deal or use it on the streets.
"Westminster police have held two Community Marac meetings (Community multi-agency risk assessment conferences) to bring together all agencies to manage the impact ‘Spice’ is having on its users on the streets of London. The third meeting next week which is attended by over 30 different partners, will welcome the news about this significant change in legislation.
"The work we continue to carry out, in partnership with Westminster City Council, is important in raising awareness among users that they could now face arrest. We will always look to work closely with charities and part of our proactive activity involves offering advice and support to users about how they can get help. But we must of course balance this against taking action where individuals are adamant in breaking the law."
Councillor Nickie Aiken, Westminster City Council cabinet member for public protection, said: "This is absolutely game changing and will make a real tangible difference in our ability to support vulnerable people on our streets.
"Westminster City Council has campaigned hard to raise awareness of ‘Spice’ and its negative impact on the most at-risk people in our communities.
"It is heartbreaking to see people whose lives have been utterly destroyed by this terrible drug. However, this is a decisive moment and Westminster City Council, the police and the government are fighting back against this destructive drug."
Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism, Sarah Newton, said: "Drugs can cause untold harm and have a devastating impact, and this Government will take whatever action is necessary to give law enforcement the powers they need to keep our families and communities safe.
"By making drugs like ‘Spice’ illegal, we have sent out a clear message that we will not tolerate these dangerous substances on our streets.
"Our forthcoming Drug Strategy will build on this work to prevent drug use in our communities and help dependent individuals, including the homeless, to recover."