Synthetic cannabis ban hasn't fixed problem

By Kyra Dawson

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Anti-synthetic cannabis campaigner Hamuera Hodge believes the drug is still a big problem.
Anti-synthetic cannabis campaigner Hamuera Hodge believes the drug is still a big problem.

A ban on synthetic cannabis has done little to reduce the use of the drug in Rotorua, with a local police officer saying the drug is as prevalent as it was before the ban.

It has been just over two years since New Zealand banned the synthetic drug made from chemicals that mimic the effect of THC - the ingredients in cannabis that get you 'high'.

The so called 'legal highs' were developed to be a legal alternative to cannabis. However on May 8, 2014, following nationwide protests against the drug, it became illegal to sell or use psychoactive substances in New Zealand.

But Detective Steven Burborough of the Rotorua police told the Rotorua Daily Post synthetic cannabis was still just as prevalent in the community.

"We are coming across it on a regular basis ... Since the law change we haven't seen a decrease in it.

"It's no different to any of the other illicit drugs. It's out there because there is a market for it. If people didn't want it, it wouldn't be there.

"We are taking whatever appropriate action we can."

Mr Burborough said the amount of synthetic cannabis in the community was "probably comparable with cannabis".

He said it was the dealers police would most like to stop.

Donna Blair, general manager of Te Utuhina Manaakitanga Trust - Alcohol and Other Drug Counselling Service, agreed there was still an issue with synthetic cannabis in Rotorua. She said there had been stories of a "black market" in the city for synthetic cannabis.

"On average we are seeing two to three new referrals per month with concerns of psychoactive substance use. Some will be poly substance abusers using more than one substance."

She said the best way to react if offered synthetic cannabis or any other kind of drug was to stop before you start.

"Do your homework, educate yourself on the effects of the drugs.

"However, the best advice is not to start."

Rotorua father Hamuera Hodge protested against the drug when it was legal and said even though it was now banned that had not stopped people using it.

"It still affects the youth and those who have addictions. I would like to tell young people 'don't go there' it's not good for them. It's sad because they are going to try it."

He said for those who regularly used the synthetic drug it was a cheap option .

"I know a lot of ... young people that have been taken over by it.

"It's terrible what the Government has done, to allow it to be legal in the first place, and they still haven't fixed the problem," Mr Hodge said.

The Psychoactive Substances Bill was led by Rotorua MP Todd McClay in 2013.

He told the Rotorua Daily Post he was happy with the outcome and thought the law change had been successful.

"It was a product that was very difficult to control and it spread quite rapidly throughout New Zealand.

"It's now no different than any other illegal illicit drug, but I would argue that it has decreased significantly.

"It can no longer be sold to public in shops ... we don't see people using it in public any more.

"Clearly the message must go out to our community that it is a harmful product. It can be extremely destructive. People shouldn't use it," Mr McClay said.

Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell also stood against synthetic cannabis prior to the ban.

"The ban was sensible and relatively effective. However, there is still a lot more to be done to address the root causes of harmful behaviour."

Mr Flavell said he was sure there were still some isolated problems with the drug in Rotorua.

"If we want to be serious about stopping dangerous drug use, we need to look at the heart of the problem.

"Why people take drugs in the first place. Alleviating poverty and providing adequate support, health services and education to those in need would go a long way," Mr Flavell said.

Acting group manager for Medsafe, New Zealand Ministry of Health Chris James said if a product contained a psychoactive substance, it must be approved under the Psychoactive Substances Act.

"Anyone who wishes to manufacture psychoactive products in New Zealand also has to have a manufacturing licence. No manufacturing licences have been applied for.

"If someone has any questions or concerns about psychoactive substances in New Zealand, they should ring the Psychoactive Substances hotline: (0800) 789 652. They can also contact police or their local public health unit.

"There are serious penalties for anyone producing or selling non-approved psychoactive substances. Police with the support of the Authority, have been actively taking prosecutions.

"The National Drug Policy 2015 to 2020 sets out the Government's approach to alcohol and other drug issues, with the overarching goal of minimising alcohol and other drug harm, and promoting and protecting health and wellbeing," he said.

-If anyone has information about the sale or use of drugs they should call Rotorua police on (07) 346 2968 or Crimestoppers anonymously on (0800) 555 111.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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