Locals unite to fight synthetic-high store

By Pauline Carney

Frantic behind-the-scenes efforts last week failed to close a new business in Jellicoe St - Puff2Go, between Blacketts Pharmacy and Mitre 10.

Te Puke Community Board chairwoman Karyl Gunn phoned MP Todd McClay to discuss the new legislation, the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013, which came into force on July 18.

"On behalf of the community I have spent time having discussions with the Ministry of Health, police and government officials trying to understand the new Act and accompanying regulations," Ms Gunn said.

"The update from the Health Ministry and the other authorities is the business owners are not doing anything unlawful.

"I understand this is going to be very upsetting for many and I am very sorry I cannot do more.

"I will now investigate options on how to advocate for a bylaw within the Western Bay of Plenty District Council or further restrictions by the government within the Act. However I wish to reiterate the business is, at this stage, complying with the Psychoactive Substance Act 2013."

The managing director of Te Puke Economic Development Group, Mark Boyle, said he had fielded a number of calls expressing concern about the new Puff2Go store selling synthetic cannabis. "Several people have asked me if I could do something to stop this."

Mr Boyle said yesterday that he had visited the owner of the shop for a second time.

"He confirmed he closed the shop while the police checked he was conducting business legally. He has now reopened and is legal.

"He did not have a visit from the Health Ministry, as was suggested by some.

"He intends to keep selling the synthetic cannabis to persons 18 years and over. He will not sell to senior high school students," Mr Boyle said.

"He has taken on board the concerns raised from the many people who have visited him to ask that he desist in selling synthetic cannabis.

"It is not the role of Te Puke's Economic Development Group to lead a protest against this. Our focus is on economic development. We became involved simply because people asked me to see if we could do something to stop it.

"We tried but haven't managed to convince the owners thus far. Likewise, many others have tried and will continue to try."

Western Bay of Plenty District mayor Ross Paterson vows to work with local MPs and the g to understand the legislation and find a way forward.

"Clearly the community is not keen for this business to become established in the main street of Te Puke. It is a risk to public health, especially young people's.

"We need to find some empowering legislation to prevent it.

"Council staff are checking through the legislation but until we find a way to prevent this sort of business operating, we need to respect the law."

Meanwhile, teachers and staff at Fairhaven School have released the following statement:

"The educators at Fairhaven School strongly protest the opening of a Puff2Go store in Te Puke. By the fact the signatures on the attached form, which was filled within minutes, is confirmation of our objection to this business.

"The general feeling is that Te Puke is already a 'degraded' town with the large number of alcohol outlets and we would not like to see yet another form of anti-societal outlet operating in our township without objection.

"Why would we promote the opening of a wonderful park, which our councillors are very proud of, and support the opening of a business that would certainly damage the image of our clean, green area?"

It was signed by Alison Gray, secretary, Fairhaven School. The petition contains 28 names, with principal Paul Hunt at the top. Signatories include school caretaker Wayne Bain, who is a Te Puke Community Board member.

Meanwhile, a visit to Puff2Go to chat to the owner/operators of the business, Lynsay Zuo and Jin Woo Hwang, finds them keen just to get on with business.

"We are all legal," said Ms Zuo. "We will obey the law in every aspect. No one under 18 will be allowed inside the door and they certainly won't be served."

Mr Hwang said the couple has been running the Mayfair dairy for four years. "I know who our customers are. I won't be selling handfuls of product to anyone who is walking out the door to on-sell it to underage kids."

Ms Zuo said their customers were regulars. "They buy it for all sorts of reasons, including to relieve medical complaints - bad backs and being unable to sleep due to pain."

The couple offered to meet any group for a 10-minute chat to explain their reason for running the business.

"It is safer to buy these products from a licensed outlet than from a drug dealer in a back alley," Ms Zuo said.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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