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‘Legal Highs Bill’ May Outlaw Incense, to Dismay of Church Groups
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 A proposed bill that seeks to outlaw “legal highs” may have negative effects on certain religious services if it is passed.

Summary: A proposed bill that seeks to outlaw “legal highs” may have negative effects on certain religious services if passed.

According to, a proposed bill could change the nature of certain worship ceremonies by outlawing incense, which is commonly used in many denominations for various church events and celebrations.


The bill, called a “legal highs bill,” aims to make it a crime to sell “any substance intended for human consumption that is capable of producing a psychoactive effect.” According to Daily Mail, offenders could face up to seven years in jail.

Last year, the FDA issued guidelines for pharmaceutical companies to follow as they tweeted about prescription drugs.

Under the bill, church incense could become illegal, though the bill does not directly target it. Rather, it may become illegal as an “unintended consequence” of the bill. The bill’s goal is to outlaw all types of “legal highs.”

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Why would incense be included in such a law? According to Telegraph, a study involving mice showed that incense may have a “minor effect on the mood.”

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The bill is called the Psychoactive Substances Bill. Many critics have argued that the bill’s language is a problem, since it is difficult to prove psychoactivity in court. Professor Les Iversen, the chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, said that this is “pretty fundamental to a bill that seeks to ban psychoactive substances.”

Two other organizations have expressed concern that “use of incense in worship would be an unwitting casualty of the new legislation.” Last week, the Association of English Cathedrals said, “the term ‘psychoactive substances’ in the Psychoactive Substances Bill can be interpreted so broadly that it risks criminalizing the use of incense in cathedrals, churches and other places of worship, as, we assume, an unintended consequence of the Bill’s drafting.”

Additionally, the Churches’ Legislation Advisory Service stated, “We cannot for one moment believe that [it] is the intention of the Government to make the use of incense in religious worship illegal. We would urge that, for the avoidance of doubt, a specific exemption for the use of incense in places of worship be inserted into…the Bill.” Members of the Churches’ Legislation Advisory Service include the Church of England and the Catholic Church.

Professor David Nutt, a former government “drugs tsar,” said that the bill is “so poorly thought through that it is embarrassing to think educated politicians would support it.”

He continued, “By targeting people’s mental and moral wellbeing this Bill is the worst since the act of supremacy in 1559 [that] banned the practice of the Catholic faith.”

The Association of English Cathedrals added, “Incense is a vital part of multi-sensory worship…Christians are encouraged to worship with their whole bodies: color and lights in services have visual impact, music uses our sense of hearing, and incense uses our sense of smell. Incense is used to enhance the worship experience, and no longer being able to use it would have an adverse impact on the conduct of worship.”

No word yet as to whether the Pope, who is currently visiting Washington, D.C., has any concerns about the bill.

The pope recently declared that having an abortion was a forgivable sin.

Last year, nuns received temporary relief from a contraceptive mandate.


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