THE Scottish Government has indicted it will refuse to support plans by Westminster to crack down on the public sale of nitrous oxide canisters north of the border.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced a raft of measures to tackle anti-social behaviour, which includes restricting the sale of the gas canisters, which are commonly used as a recreational drug, and giving police in England and Wales enhanced drug-testing powers.

Drugs policy is a reserved matter so the ban on purchasing canisters will extend to Scotland but, a spokesperson for the Home Office said, as policing is devolved it will be up to Police Scotland how to police the situation.

Police Scotland said it would not comment on the issue. 

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Rishi Sunak pointed to the litter left behind by people who inhale nitrous oxide – or 'nos' – while Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, said the new proposals would stop parks being "turned into drug-taking arenas".

A government spokesperson, however, said any new sanctions introduced by changes to legislation would be "disproportionate with the level of harm associated with nitrous oxide".

However, the Scottish Tories warned that the government should "not oppose for opposing sake" any proposals by their UK counterparts. 

Earlier this year the MSP Jamie Greene, Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice, asked in the Scottish Parliament if the Scottish Government had had any discussions with retailers such as eBay or Amazon or with the UK Government regarding the sale and marketing of nitrous oxide for recreational purposes.

Nitrous oxide is not illegal to possess but in 2016 David Cameron's government banned the sale of the gas for recreational use, under the Psychoactive Substances Act.

This placed limits were placed on buying boxes in bulk.

In response to Mr Greene's question, the Scottish Government said that, given the reserved nature of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, it had not pursued any discussions on the issue with retailers but had "engaged heavily with the National Crime Agency and UK Government about the need for tackling the ease through which certain products can be bought online and used for criminal activity". 

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Mr Greene also asked the Scottish Government what estimate it has made in regards the number of deaths as a result of the recreational use of nitrous oxide in each year for which data is available.

In England and Wales, between 2010 and 2019,  an average of four people a year died from nitrous oxide abuse. 

In Scotland, because nitrous oxide is not classed as a controlled substance, it is not routinely screened for in toxicology tests and, while National Records of Scotland do publish ‘accidental poisoning by and exposure to noxious substances’, they do not provide specific substance breakdowns.

The government response to Mr Greene was that: "Analysis of hospital admissions in relation to nitrous oxide would be limited by use of the ICD-10 diagnostic coding system. 

"Nitrous Oxide use is coded within the ‘inhalant’ or ‘volatile substance’ category (F18), but this also contains other substances such as butane and glue, so it isn’t possible to narrow it down to the admissions specific to nitrous."

Those figures also do not make note of whether the use of these substances is recreational or not. 

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Given the reserved nature of the Misuse of Drugs Act, any move to control nitrous oxide under that legislation would entirely apply in Scotland. 

“On that basis we agree with the UK Government’s own Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs which recommended that the substance should not be controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, noting that sanctions for any offences would be disproportionate with the level of harm associated with nitrous oxide.”

Mr Greene said: “This is an issue that must be examined carefully and it is crucial that the SNP Government should give consideration to the proposals outlined by the UK Government and not oppose for opposing sake.

"Reports of these canisters’ contribution to anti-social behaviour, as well as how they litter public spaces, should encourage ministers to engage constructively with the UK Government, whatever approach is agreed upon.

"The onus is also on the SNP Government to take a new approach towards tackling the scourge of drugs in our communities. Scotland’s drug death rate is the highest in Europe on their watch.

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"It is time for Humza Yousaf to live up to his pledge made during his leadership campaign and back the Scottish Conservatives plans for a Right To Recovery Bill, which would give everyone who needs it a right to access treatment.”

During lockdown, the silver canisters became a common sight on UK streets and in parks as people, largely teenagers and young people, made use of the gas for short highs.

Young people inhaling the gas from balloons are a routine sight in city centres, particularly outside clubs and bars on weekend nights.

However, last month the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) warned against a ban, saying it would be disproportionate with the level of harm associated with nitrous oxide and create “significant burdens” for legitimate uses of the substance.

Nitrous oxide bullets are used commonly in catering and coffee shops to charge canisters for whipped cream.

The ACMD concluded in its report: "No single recommendation on its own is likely to be sufficient to successfully reduce the harms associated with nitrous oxide use."

Dealers of nitrous oxide, who sell it knowingly for inhalation, can currently be jailed for up to seven years under current legislation.

In response to pictures of nitrous oxide canisters in streets around Glasgow's south side, Dr Soryia Siddique, a Labour local councillor in the south side said she had raised the issue with the local authority's executive director for Neighbourhoods, Regeneration and Sustainability.

She said: "It is has been brought to my attention that nitrous oxide canisters have been found in Southside Central. 

"I will raise this with Glasgow City Council.

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"Considering nitrous oxide has been documented to cause nerve damage this appears to be an issue that may require further investigation."

Scottish Labour was approached for comment but did not respond.

However, Labour MSP Monica Lennon, who supports the decriminalisation of personal drug use, has previously emphasised the importance of education in terms of the risks of nitrous oxide and said this remains important, as part of a public health approach to reducing harms arising from substance use.

However, Lucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary, has said UK Labour wanted laughing gas to be banned because of its contribution to antisocial behaviour.

But she challenged the UK government’s plan as amounting “to nothing”.