Region demands illegal-highs ban

By Sam Hurley

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Hastings councillors say synthetic drug legislation is naive. Photo / File
Hastings councillors say synthetic drug legislation is naive. Photo / File

Associate Heath Minister Todd McClay is expected to again raise the issue of synthetic drugs in caucus tomorrow, after Hawke's Bay councillors say Government needs to take a stronger stance.

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule, who has previously said central government has been "weak kneed" on the sale of K2-based products, has taken his concerns to government and believes the drugs should be banned. "It's banned in the UK and Australia, so how come we can't do the same here?"

He said the problem lay with the variations of the high profile synthetic drugs Kronic and K2 which need to be tested. There are now 20 variations of Kronic.

Minister of Internal Affairs and Napier National MP Chris Tremain said he talked to Mr McClay yesterday and claimed the Psychoactive Substances Bill was having an effect on the distribution and use of synthetic highs.

"The number of shops selling the products around the country has gone from the 1000s to the 100s.

Stores that sell the legal highs now have to be registered as well. The number of products has also dropped and gone from the 100s to about 25 or 30."

Recently the violent nature of the drugs was seen in Hastings when a 12-year-old boy, high on synthetic cannabis, attacked a man in Hastings leaving the 49-year-old victim with a shoe imprint imbedded on his left cheek.

The boy's mother told Hawke's Bay Today last week she did not know where the drugs had come from but said he had been smoking synthetic cannabis, since March last year.

"This 12-year-old, how did he get the product? Shops that sell these products to kids under 18 can now be prosecuted when before they couldn't," Mr Tremain said.

He said the drugs still on the market had been tested and "at this point there was no clear evidence to suggest it had harmful effects".

"These products can still be reviewed and dissolved from the market quickly though."

Mr Tremain said one option was to completely ban all synthetic drugs, but was concerned about a potential "black market".

Napier Mayor Babara Arnott said Government believed synthetic drugs would be sold anyway, even if made illegal.

"They said it is better to sell it legally so they know who is selling it and who is buying it. Our council wanted it out of here. It seems government has done a quarter of the job," she said.

"We have huge concerns over this, we have seen first hand the effects of it. But as soon as you put the term legal on something people think it is safe."

Hastings district councillor Sandra Hazlehurst said she had been told it would have cost between $700,000 and $1 million to get each strand tested.

"My biggest concern is how naively handled this has been, in thinking you were going to be able to test every strand of it."

"What they didn't do was straight out ban it. The fact that they didn't make this drug illegal sickens me," she said.

"They needed to have taken a hard and fast stance saying that we don't want this crap in our community."

Last week a public protest was arranged to help ban synthetic drugs from the Hastings CBD. The protest is set for Friday at 12.30pm at the town clock in Hastings. Local MPs and the Mayor have been asked to address the crowd, who will then march down to Landmark Square past the alleged sellers.

Hastings district councillor Henare O'Keefe said the Government not only got it wrong with K2 but also with alcohol.

"Too often politics takes precedence over what is morally and ethically right.

"The present legislation is toothless, it lacks boldness. These fly by night cowboys who thrive on the heart ache and misery of others must be held accountable and made redundant.

"We as community and parents hold the key, you cannot legislate good quality parenting. Governments come and go, they don't have the answers, it is we who have the solutions."

Both Hastings District and Napier City councils have attempted to curb the legal high issue themselves, when last week they voted to limit the sale of psychoactive subst21If adopted, the council policy would restrict the sale of K2 and similar psychoactive substances to the CBD and sales prohibited within 100 metres of kindergartens, childcare centres, schools, libraries or places of worship.

A total ban on the products was not possible due to the Government's Psychoactive Substances Bill. Instead, the policy aimed to minimise the harm the products caused to residential areas. Hastings District Councillors also voted to write a letter to central government expressing their disappointment with the Psychoactive Substances Bill implemented in July, and requesting a moratorium on the sale of the products.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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