Nitrous Oxide: Legal consequences

Last modified: Saturday, 20. June 2009 - 2:18 pm

Legal consequences of Nitrous Oxide

Most states have laws regarding inhalant (or volatile substance) use and abuse on the books. In recent years, laws that are specific to nitrous oxide use and distribution have been written in many states. For example, in Connecticut, Arizona, Texas, and Michigan, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to purchase nitrous oxide, even in food grade cartridges. In Arizona, anyone caught selling N20 to minors faces up to 18 months in jail and a $150,000 fine.
In Wisconsin, the minimum age for purchasing nitrous oxide is 21. However, state legislation passed in 1998 makes it illegal for anyone to inhale or even intend to inhale nitrous outside of medical or dental settings. Anyone who distributes or delivers nitrous to someone with the knowledge that they are using it for illicit purposes can also be charged under Wisconsin law. A number of states, including Texas, California, Ohio, and Iowa, have variations on this law.
Illicit use, or possession with intent to use, is typically a misdemeanor in most states, and may be punishable by a small fine. Knowingly selling nitrous for illicit use carries a heftier price tag; it is a felony in many states and can involve significant jail time and cash fines.

Legal history

Nitrous oxide is not a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration controlled substance. Nitrous oxide is regulated at the federal level by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as a food-grade propellant, medical grade gas, and prescription drug. In the 1990s, in an attempt to curb growing abuse of nitrous oxide, a number of states passed laws placing strong safeguards and stricter penalties on its illicit use.

Federal guidelines, regulations, and penalties

Use of the medical grade gas is by prescription only, and regulated by the FDA. Compressed medical gas suppliers must register with FDA, and are subjected to facility inspections from FDA at least once every two years. Licenses required to purchase and administer nitrous oxide in the healthcare setting is regulated on a state level.
Theft of nitrous oxide tanks from medical and other facilities is not uncommon. Some industry trade groups are working with state legislatures to pass stricter regulations on nitrous sales and theft-prevention guidelines in an effort to deter abuse.

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