Nitrous oxide has been banned in Britain

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, and deflate your balloons: the government has finally made nitrous oxide – the third most popular drug among young people in Britain – illegal.

Better known as “laughing gas” or “hippy crack” (if you’re a Daily Mail reporter and literally no one else), nitrous oxide is set to be made a Class C drug before the end of the year. This means that possession can carry an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison, while dealers could face 14 years (!) of imprisonment.  

The decision follows a flurry of public outcry around the drug, which seemed to be driven by a dislike of littering as much as concern about public health. “The British people are fed up with yobs abusing drugs in public spaces and leaving behind a disgraceful mess for others to clean up,” as Home Secretary Suella Braverman said about the ruling, while promising a ramped-up police presence to clamp down on anti-social behaviour. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, an independent body that works with the government, has criticised the ban on the basis that it is disproportionate. We also know from past experience that criminalising drugs is not an effective way of reducing consumption.

Fans of whipped cream need not worry: the government has included an exemption, whereby laughing gas will still be legal for “legitimate purposes” such as catering and medicine. What’s still unclear though, is how the ban will affect companies which supply nitrous oxide for these purposes. If you – as an antisocial “yob” – ring them up to order a delivery, will you have to answer a short quiz about the delicate art of French patisserie? Will you have to send a selfie of yourself wearing a comically oversized chef’s hat? These are the kinds of urgent questions that the government, in its rush towards authoritarianism, has failed to consider. Farewell, laughing gas: all you ever did was make me hear a strange kind of whooshing noise inside my head, but I’ll miss you all the same.

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