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House of Lords agrees to raise concerns about powers to ban and regulate legal highs transferring from member states to the EU

The House of Lords last night agreed to issue a reasoned opinion relating to two EU proposals to transfer the power to ban and regulate new psychoactive substances from Member States to the European Commission.

The Lords EU Committee had recommended to the House that it should call on the European Commission to think again about a new proposed Regulation and Directive to transfer the power to ban and regulate so-called “legal highs” from Member States to the European Commission.

Although the Committee agreed with the Commission's concerns about the risk that these substances pose and supports the EU's work around definitions, data sharing and tackling drug trafficking, it did not agree that the best place to take decisions to ban new psychoactive substances would be at EU level. 

The Committee considered that the proposed Regulation and Directive do not comply with the principle of subsidiarity, which means that decisions should be made at the lowest appropriate level - in this case, by each Member State – and the House agreed.

During the debate, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, Chair of the Home Affairs, Health and Education EU Sub-Committee, said:

The proliferation of new psychoactive substances is influenced by regional, national and international forces. These manifest themselves quite differently in different member states, depending on the speed at which the substances become available and the severity of their impact on public health. In any case, member states have different systems for dealing with harmful drugs in general, and for addressing new psychoactive substances. They require flexibility to respond rapidly to local situations. Therefore, member states are best placed to decide how to respond to the proliferation of these substances in the manner that best fits the circumstances in their jurisdictions.

“The question that comes up under subsidiarity is: will action at the European Union level add value and be more effective? That is where these proposals fall down: we do not have a perfect system, but the one that is proposed could lead to quite difficult issues arising if, for example, great harm were found in the UK from one of these substances—if people died from it—and we were not able to take action. That would be damaging both to us in Britain and to the European Union.”

The “reasoned opinion” has now been sent to the European Commission and other EU institutions, to signal its concern. The Commission will respond to the reasoned opinion in due course.

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