I know that the recreational use of nitrous oxide is of growing concern to many in Wycombe. Over the past few years, I have seen many photographs from concerned constituents of large piles of discarded canisters which have been found around parks, left in roadside verges, and collected during litter picks.
Understanding the breadth of concern, I have long campaigned on this issue. In 2020, I was pleased to intervene in an Adjournment debate on the Misuse of Nitrous Oxide to bring to the Government’s attention the piles of canisters that often appear on the roadside in Wycombe:
“I cannot help noticing that in Wycombe we see piles of these canisters at the roadside. As a motorcyclist, I have often been conscious when looking at little steel rollers, in effect, that they could cause a major fatal accident on a bicycle or a motorcycle, or possibly in a car. I really appreciate the opportunity to put that on the record, because I hope that the Government will think about some of the wider harms that users might cause.”
The presence of these discarded canisters is not only unsightly and hazardous for road users, but is cause for wider concern; although there are legitimate uses for nitrous oxide, like medicine, dentistry, and as a propellant for whipped cream canisters, the drug is now the third most used recreational drug among 16 to 24-year-olds in England.
Both the police and the public have repeatedly reported links between the use of the drug and nuisance or anti-social behaviour, about which the Prime Minister also expressed concerns earlier this year. Therefore, I was pleased to see that, as part of the Government’s zero-tolerance approach to anti-social behaviour, nitrous oxide will become an illegal Class C substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 by the end of the year:
Those caught in unlawful possession of nitrous oxide will face up to two years in prison, or an unlimited fine. These measures will help tackle nitrous oxide abuse and protect the public from the dangers of misuse, including both concerns about anti-social behaviour and the medical harms associated with recreational consumption of the drug.
I know this news will be of great relief to the many in Wycombe who have taken the time to raise their concerns about the misuse of nitrous oxide with me. As the ban comes into effect towards the end of the year, my office and I will continue to watch developments closely.