Michael Gove today admitted it was ‘worse than a mistake’ to take cocaine as he was challenged over championing a nitrous oxide ban.
The Levelling Up Secretary insisted it is not hypocritical for him to support making so-called ‘Hippy Crack’ illegal because he had ‘learned’ from his experiences.
Mr Gove has previously acknowledged that he used cocaine. During the 2019 Tory leadership contest he said: ‘I took drugs on several occasions at social events more than 20 years ago… I look back and think ”I wish I hadn’t done that”.’
Appearing on Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday programme this morning, Mr Gove was asked whether he is ‘really going to give people a criminal record for taking laughing gas’ given his own history.
Michael Gove today admitted it was ‘worse than a mistake’ to take cocaine as he was challenged over championing a nitrous oxide ban
In recent years there have been growing concerns about the impact of nitrous oxide on a user’s health as well as the ‘epidemic’ of the silver canisters (pictured) littering public spaces
Mr Gove replied: ‘Well, we want to make sure we deal with the scourge and it is the case that we need to be clear that there types of activity, particular types of activity that cause distress to others in public that are unacceptable…’
Pressed that there was a ‘bit of an issue’ with politicians who have used drugs themselves being ‘hypocritical,’ Mr Gove replied: ‘No, I think, it’s because I’ve learned.’
Challenged on what he had learned, the Cabinet minister said: ‘That it is a mistake, worse than a mistake, to regard drug taking as somehow acceptable.’
The wriggling came as Rishi Sunak pledged to put ‘community justice’ at the heart of an anti-social behaviour clampdown.
It will mean giving victims and local residents a say in what punishments are meted out – such as placing vandals in shaming jumpsuits while they publicly repair the damage they caused.
On-the-spot fines for those caught fly-tipping will more than double from £400 to £1,000, while those littering or spraying graffiti face being hit with £500 fines – up from the current £150 maximum.
The PM told the Mail on Sunday ahead of the launch of the package: ‘The community fightback starts now.’
The government’s advisory committee recently recommended the government stops short of a blanket block on nitrous oxide.
What is Nitrous Oxide and is it illegal?
Nitrous Oxide, has been nicknamed ‘laughing gas’ due to the euphoric and relaxed feeling people who inhale it can sometimes feel.
The substance – also known as ‘hippy crack’ – is normally bought in pressured canisters, commonly transferred to a container, e.g. a balloon, from which the gas is inhaled.
Although possession of laughing gas is not illegal, English law prohibits its sale to under-18s if there is a chance they will inhale it.
The effects of nitrous oxide:
• Feelings of euphoria, relaxation and calmness.
• Dizziness, difficulty in thinking straight and fits of giggles/laughter.
• Sound distortions or even hallucinations.
• In some people, a headache can be an unwanted immediate effect.
• Unconsciousness or death from lack of oxygen. This occurs when the available oxygen for breathing is effectively pushed out by the nitrous oxide.
Asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme whether ‘Hippy Crack’ would be banned, Mr Gove said: ‘Yes.
‘I think any of us who have had the opportunity to walk through our parks in our major cities will have seen these little canisters, these silver canisters which are examples of people not only despoiling public spaces but also people taking a drug which can have a psychological and neurological affect and one that contributes to anti-social behaviour overall.’
He said ministers had not yet decided at what drug classification level laughing gas would be set at.
Mr Gove added: ‘We want to make sure the sale and use can be restricted for its appropriate purpose.
‘We can’t have a situation, we mustn’t have a situation where our parks, our public spaces become drug-taking arenas. And that is why we need to crackdown on new manifestations of drug taking and these laughing gas canisters are an increasing scourge and one that has been reported to me as a constituency MP.’
Ministers are also considering plans for suspects to be tested for drugs as part of a ‘hotspot’ policing strategy, which comes in response to shocking evidence that half of all crime is carried out in just five per cent of areas.
Community patrols will also be given a funding boost to help tackle the menace.
There are also likely to be new laws against nuisance begging and a ban on the sale and possession of nitrous oxide – laughing gas – to combat the scourge of empty metal canisters littering the streets where youths congregate, as well as enhanced powers for landlords to evict problem tenants.
Mr Sunak said: ‘Dropping litter, fly-tipping and graffitiing show an unacceptable lack of respect for everyone else in a community. While many up and down the country work so hard to make communal areas such as high streets, town squares and parks look beautiful, a small minority tarnish them through their selfish, thoughtless actions. It’s not right and it’s not fair.
‘Women and girls should feel safe walking home at night. Parents should feel able to let their children play without fear. Everyone should be able to feel pride in the area they call home. So we will give police the powers they need to tackle this scourge and Mail on Sunday readers will get a chance to have their say over what punishments they think fit the crimes.
‘To those who inflict this blight, let me warn you: the community fightback starts now.’
No 10 hopes the changes, which come into effect later this year, will add to the political momentum gathering behind Mr Sunak since he struck a post-Brexit deal with the EU over Northern Ireland and legislated to tackle the small-boats crisis.
Michael Gove confirmed that so-called ‘Hippy Crack’ will become illegal, pointing to the impact on local areas and littering
The policies have coincided with a narrowing in Labour’s opinion poll lead, while private research by the Tories indicates their reputation on law and order remains one of their few potential trump cards to win over swing voters ahead of next year’s expected Election.
Nitrous Oxide ban ‘won’t stop kids using it’
A laughing gas ban will not stop people using it and risks driving it into criminal hands, an expert has said.
As part of a wider crack down on anti-social behaviour, ministers are looking to clamp down on the sale of nitrous oxide, despite an assessment by the independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) concluding it would be disproportionate to bring in an outright ban.
The Drug Science Scientific Committee is among the groups criticising the ‘same old tired drug policy’ by the Government.
David Badcock, the organisation’s chief executive, said: ‘I’m very disheartened to hear that the Government now looks like they’re going to ban nitrous oxide, it’s going completely against its own advisory panel and the advice they gave.
‘A blanket ban on nitrous oxide is completely disproportionate to the harms that are caused by nitrous oxide and would likely deliver more harm than good.
‘The Government should be concentrating on much more serious elements of drug policy that are causing harm, like alcohol for instance.
‘What’s the point in the ACMD when the very best scientists and experts have looked at the evidence and advised what to do and they completely ignore it?
‘It’s the same old tired drug policy that the Government just continue to put out without looking at the evidence, the same old Government rhetoric on the war on drugs.
‘It won’t stop young people using it, banning any substance just drives it into criminal hands and the inherent risks associated with the black market come into play, I don’t think it will stop people doing it.’
But Labour is likely to accuse the Tories of stealing one of its flagship ideas. The party pledged last year to create ‘community and victim payback boards’ to strengthen local involvement in sentencing, reduce antisocial behaviour and stop more serious offending.
The new Government measures, which will include extra funding for police and crime commissioners, is intended to ensure that crimes are more swiftly and visibly punished, with the aim that offenders will start work within 48 hours of receiving an order.
The plan will be tested in ten areas before being rolled out across England and Wales next year.
The most eye-catching element is the proposal for offenders to wear jumpsuits or high-vis jackets while cleaning up graffiti, picking up litter or washing police cars.
The ‘Community Payback’ scheme, under which more serious offenders are sentenced to do unpaid work such as cleaning up public places, will also be extended.
No 10 is also planning to change the rules so money from fines will be reinvested into clean-up and enforcement activity to offset some of the £732 million councils spent on litter and fly-tipping last year.
More commonly known as laughing gas or ‘hippy crack’- which is held in a small metal canister – the harmful substance is inhaled using balloons and is described as causing a feeling of relaxation and dissociation from reality.
In recent years there have been growing concerns about its impact on a user’s health as well as the ‘epidemic’ of the silver canisters littering public spaces.
In the United Kingdom, nitrous oxide is the second most prevalent drug among young adults aged 16 to 24 years, after cannabis, according to the European Union drugs monitoring agency EMCDDA.
A ban on the sale and possession of the substance will be announced as part of the Government’s Department of Levelling Up’s new strategy to target anti-social behaviour on the country’s streets.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman is also expected to review drug laws to include the prosecution of anyone found with nitrous oxide in public.
A person in possession of gas canisters must be able to provide a legitimate reason for using them, such as food preparation (most commonly whipped cream canisters) or medical use.
There will also be restrictions on the amount of canisters available to buy for legitimate use so that recreational users have limited access to them.
The cartridges are normally consumed by filling party balloons, from which the gas is then inhaled, but more recently users have been inhaling directly from dispensers or cartridges, which poses a high risk of severe cold burns and lung injury. It also affects several brain and spinal cord networks.
Smaller nitrous oxide canisters – which are legitimately used in the catering industry – have been widely used for recreational drug-taking for at least a decade.
The small, silver cartridges contain four litres of the colourless gas, but the larger types – which cost just £25 – can hold between 322 litres and 5,500 litres.
One in 11 people aged 16 to 24 said they had taken laughing gas in 2019-20, according to the Crime Survey of England and Wales.
The comments in interviews this morning came after Rishi Sunak (pictured) pledged to put ‘community justice’ at the heart of the clampdown