Editorial: Ban of highs right thing to do

By editor, Craig Cooper

Photo: John Stone
Photo: John Stone

Eventually, for me, it came down to this.

Why does a can of imported tuna display nutritional information and a list of ingredients including the type of thickener used, the percentage of tuna (57 per cent) and detail on the colouring (paprika).

Thus allowing me to make an informed choice about consuming this product.

Why do we know nothing about what's in "synthetic cannabis", a so-called legal high with potentially addictive and destructive qualities?

In recent months, the public clamour to ban legal highs has given National a political headache and the country a new health issue.

These drugs have been around a while - in 2001, the NZ Herald ran a story saying legal-high sellers were being "heavied" by the drug underworld, unimpressed with the new competition.

In 2001 though, the main concern was around pills. As restrictions kicked in around pills, synthetic cannabis has become a greater problem in the past three or four years.

The game is lucrative - stories abound in Whangarei of retailers turning over $20,000 plus a week in legal-high sales. Only the sellers know if that is true.

But in the world of commerce where demand is met with supply, can you blame them for seizing the business opportunity? How different are they to retailers selling liquor to alcoholics, or tobacco to addicted smokers?

Coalition partner and United MP Peter Dunne's legislation sought to further restrict legal highs sales and use, and it did. Retail outlets dropped from 4000 to 150. Which probably also made the 150 outlet owners rich.

But it underestimated the latent health issue arising - it turned out the good people of New Zealand did not want these highs restricted - they wanted them banned.

Restrictions had worked for pills but only because consumers and sellers moved to an alternative product - synthetic cannabis. Who knows where they will move to next ... cannabis?

After democracy kicked into action, a full synthetic high ban is on the way.

Not before, one imagines, some terse "how do we sort this mess out Peter?" conversations between John Key and Peter Dunne, mindful of the approaching election. And still, the issue continues to pose questions.

Is a black market likely to emerge - yes, but for how long?

Is synthetic cannabis a more viable business option for a criminal than natural cannabis, taking into account production/growth comparisons?

John Key has acknowledged the Government got it wrong. One of the reasons that a full ban was not sought, he said, was the unease at the animal testing required.

Ironic given legal-high users have become lab rats with side effects that created enough pressure for a political U-turn. The full ban is the right thing to do, and we now start cleaning up. And here's hoping in a year's time, there is little residue left from the legal-high mess.

- Northern Advocate

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