Incense in worship not caught by Psychoactive Substances Bill

An earlier post noted the potential criminalisation of the liturgical use of incense, as identified by Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab) during the report stage in the House of Lords of the Psychoactive Substances Bill. We updated the story here. In the course of the day-job I sent a memorandum on behalf of the Churches’ Legislation Advisory Service to the Commons Home Affairs Committee, which was about to consider the Bill, asking the Committee to see clarification on the point. The Association of English Cathedrals did the same.

The Minister of State for Policing, Crime, Criminal Justice and Victims, Mike Penning, has now replied, assuring us that it is not the Government’s intention to criminalise the use of incense in worship. The nub of his response is as follows:

“We are dealing here with the trade in psychoactive substances. In looking at the workings of the Bill it is necessary to consider the definition of a psychoactive substance alongside the elements of the offences in clauses 4 to 8 of the Bill. We do not believe it right to equate the effect of incense wafting through the air with the direct inhalation of fumes, for example from a solvent. Moreover, the offences only apply where a substance is likely to be consumed for its psychoactive effect. As such, the use of incense in religious services will not be covered by the Bill. I hope that this letter has allayed your concerns.”

Which it has.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Incense in worship not caught by Psychoactive Substances Bill" in Law & Religion UK, 29 September 2015,


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