A DANGEROUS drug is expected to flood Cheltenham's streets at rock-bottom prices as dealers try to get rid of their stock before it's banned.
The mind-altering substance mephedrone, also known as Meow Meow or M-Cat, which has been linked to up to 25 deaths in England and Scotland, will be criminalised within weeks.
Last week Echo reporter Joe Lane bought 2g of the drug for £20 from a dealer in the town in less than half-an-hour.
The 27-year-old man, who was caught on camera dealing the substance in Pittville, said he plans to get rid of his stock before the ban comes into force – selling it at discount prices if necessary.
The man, who did not want to give his name, said: "I've loads of meph and I want to get it off my hands before it is made illegal.
"There has been a big demand for it in the past couple of months so I don't think it will be a problem.
"I can sell it on for double the price I buy it for, but I will lower the cost if I need too. I can make anywhere between £500 and £1,000 per week."
The substance, which comes in powder form and is said to cause heart palpitations and psychosis, is being sold in Cheltenham for £10 per gram.
The dealer, who set up a Facebook group to promote the product, said most of his customers were students and people in their early 20s.
Officials at the University of Gloucestershire said they were "deeply concerned" after his website advertised free deliveries to Francis Close Hall campus in St Paul's.
Home Secretary Alan Johnson announced last month that mephedrone, a plant fertiliser, would be classified as a class B drug, following a spate of deaths among users.
But ministers have been criticised for "rushing through" the legislation with several government drugs advisers resigning over the issue.
Tony France, Gloucestershire County Council's substance misuse adviser, warned that making the substance illegal would not stop other designer drugs being used.
"At the same time as banning mephedrone they are trying to outlaw a range of substances similar to it," he said.
"But they won't catch them all. There are three or four other mind-altering drugs ready to be distributed by dealers which all essentially have the same effect.
"We need to take a broader approach. It's not just about criminalising substances. We need to look at why young people want to use them in the first place."
A spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers said they would concentrate on targeting traffickers of the drug rather than users, to avoid criminalising thousands of youngsters across the country.
But Gloucestershire police vowed to take a tough stance as soon as the ban comes into force. Assistant chief constable Steve Ackland said: "We welcome the decision to classify mephedrone as a class B drug and will enforce the law, as laid down by Parliament.
"We play an important role in reducing the harm caused by illegal drugs and will continue to educate the community about the dangers of such substances."
April 6, 2010
This Is Gloucestershire
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Cheap meow meow expected to flood Cheltenham