Government regulations giving teeth to local council policies on the sale of synthetic cannabis will not come into force for about a year.
The delay in implementing regulations under the Psychoactive Substances Act is a frustration for Napier City and Hastings District, two of only three councils nationally to adopt local polices on the sale of legal highs.
The delay means it could be as late as the middle of next year before the local approved products policies (LAPPs) the two councils adopted last December can be considered as part of the regulation of legal high retail stores in Napier and Hastings.
An added frustration for the two councils is that public consultation on the planned regulations closes in just over two weeks, meaning they do not have time, they say, to properly collaborate with each other over their submissions on how they would like to see the law work.
Under the councils' LAPPs, psychoactive substances can be sold only in designated areas of the Napier and Hastings CBDs. The policies were developed with the support of police, who believed legal high sales would be easier to monitor away from the suburbs.
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said that while many in the community wanted the sale of legal highs banned completely, there had been widespread cross-party support for the Psychoactive Substances Act when it was passed last year, and therefore a law change resulting in a total ban was unlikely.
"The Government has taken a position based on its advice that it's better to regulate than to ban, because if you ban you just push it underground, so we have to work within that environment."
Mr Yule, who is also the president of pan-council advocacy group Local Government NZ, met Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne yesterday to push the case for an effective framework to control legal high sales.
"We're focusing on the regulations to try and make them as tight as possible to constrain some of the very worst of the offences [resulting from] these types of products."
He said yesterday's meeting was a chance to pass on to Mr Dunne the concerns local authorities up and down the country had about the legislation and the minister "said he will see what he can do about some of those concerns".
At a meeting last week, the Hastings council appointed Deputy Mayor Cynthia Bowers and councillor Sandra Hazlehurst to prepare a submission to central government on the proposed regulations on the council's behalf.
At a meeting tomorrow, Napier councillors will consider a draft submission prepared by council staff. It recommends legal highs be regulated in a similar way to alcohol, with retailers subjected to stringent licensing requirements.
The draft submission also proposes that labelling, packaging and advertising of psychoactive substances be restricted to discourage sales.
In a report prepared for tomorrow's meeting, Napier City Council's regulatory services manager, Michael Webster, said the "constrained timeframe" of a March 21 deadline for lodging submissions meant it was not possible to make a co-ordinated response with the Hastings council, although Napier's draft submission had been supplied to Hastings District staff.
The Government intends implementing the psychoactive substances regulations over two phases. The first phase, dealing with licence applications for importing, manufacturing and wholesaling legal highs, is likely to be in place around July or August this year.
The second phase - dealing with retail licence applications and other matters relating to retail sales, such as advertising - is likely to take effect "by the middle of 2015", the Government says.
Until then, interim rules to control retailers are in place which do not take account of LAPPs. Apart from Napier and Hastings, Tasman District is the only other council to have so far adopted a LAPP, although some other councils are at various stages of developing policies.