Britain is to opt out of a European Union regime for regulating legal highs that would result in only the most harmful new psychoactive substances being subject to full criminalisation.

Announcing the decision – which could attract sanctions from Brussels –the Home Office crime prevention minister, Norman Baker, said he "strongly disputes"' the EU claim that 20% of legal highs have "legitimate commercial and industrial uses". The issue could presage a fresh clash between London and Brussels as the proposed EU drugs directive does not include provision for a UK opt-out.

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