A proposed legal highs ban that would result in dealers getting up to seven years in prison has been strongly criticised by government advisers.

In a letter to Theresa May, the home secretary, the government’s drug advisers group said the controversial bill would, in its current form, have the “serious unintended consequences” of preventing scientific research, prosecuting people buying harmless herbal medicine, and disproportionately criminalising otherwise law-abiding young people.

The government wants to introduce the “psychoactive substances bill” during this parliament to ban “any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect” – including things like laughing gas.

But the Advisory Council of the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), which gives the government advice on how to control harmful drugs, said the the government has ignored its advice and produced a bill that goes much further than needed and risks driving users underground.

The chair of the ACMD, Professor Iverson, wrote that the bill “may not achieve its aims and may produce serious unintended consequences”.

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