Shops in Leeds that sell so-called “legal highs” are being warned they face an imminent crackdown ahead of a change in the law.
The new Psychoactive Substances Act, which comes into force in April, will make it illegal to produce and sell the mind-altering drugs, which mimic the effects of banned narcotics like cannabis and cocaine.
Police will have greater powers to take action against “head shops” and other sellers.
West Yorkshire Police’s drugs co-ordinator Bryan Dent said officers would be visiting traders in the next three months to warn them about the new regulations.
He said: “High street head shops and other suppliers operate on the margins of legality in selling potentially harmful substances that mimic the effects of illegal drugs and which have been linked to deaths and serious illness.”
The West Yorkshire force saw the number of incidents linked to legal highs rocket from 28 in 2012-13 to 441 last year.
Last month Leeds magistrates granted a landmark order allowing the authorities to destroy £34,000 of substances seized from three shops after hearing they were dangerous.
Despite a ban on substances like MCAT, however, the law has struggled to keep up with the constantly evolving variety of legal highs on the market.
Home Office minister Mike Penning says the new act will end the game of “cat and mouse” by covering “any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect” – effectively introducing a blanket ban.
Mr Dent added: “We remain very concerned that these substances are being openly sold across the county and that this makes some people, particularly the young, think that they are safe to take.
“We will continue to do all we can to raise awareness of the criminal offences and health risks associated with these substances and use whatever means are available to tackle the issue, including the new legislation, we are determined to make West Yorkshire a safer place to be and feel that this new legislation will contribute towards that.”