City zone earmarked for legal high retailers

By Mike Dinsdale

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Albert St, just one of the three streets in Whangarei where legal high vendors could be licensed to sell legal highs. Photo/John Stone
Albert St, just one of the three streets in Whangarei where legal high vendors could be licensed to sell legal highs. Photo/John Stone

Whangarei District Council is putting its controversial plan to create a legal high zone in the city out to public consultation.

Last Wednesday, the council's planning committee voted to send a draft Psychoactive Substances Policy - which would restrict the sale of the substances (also known as legal highs) to Lower Cameron St, Clyde St and Albert St - to the full council for approval then out for public consultation. The policy would only allow legal highs to be sold between 10am and 2pm, 6pm and 8pm.

Parliament introduced the Psychoactive Substances Act last year, which gives local authorities the right to develop a locally approved products policy that can determine where such products can be sold.

Mayor Sheryl Mai said council would ban legal highs if it could, but could not do so under the Act. A meeting with retailers in the proposed zone will be held at the Forum North tomorrow.

The council will give the public six weeks from March 3 to have their say about how legal highs should be managed in the district, through a process where people can make submissions and be heard.

"People have already responded quite passionately, expressing a range of opinions so this is clearly an issue that people care about. That means it is very important that they know how to get those views into the public record to ensure they will be considered in the final policy," Ms Mai said.

Some councillors at the meeting said they would prefer legal highs to be banned, while others talked about comparisons with alcohol management and the harm people using legal highs could cause to innocent people.

Ms Mai said central government had presented council with limited choices for managing legal highs.

"We can restrict the area where legal highs can be sold or we can do nothing at all about the issue. The legislation set by central government prevents us from banning them. We think that's a problem and are giving our support to other mayors who are voicing their concerns to central government on this issue," she said.

"We will also make this point to Local Government NZ. In the meantime we have proposed that their sale be restricted to an area that is away from places where young people congregate and during hours when fewer young people are around. We also want it to be somewhere visible where we know what is going on. The areas proposed in the draft are out in the open, busy and close to CitySafe assets and the police station."

- Northern Advocate

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