Nicholas Jones

Nicholas Jones is the New Zealand Herald’s education reporter.

Teen death: Kronic's role probed

Liam Stevenson crossed the centre line in his car and smashed into a truck. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Liam Stevenson crossed the centre line in his car and smashed into a truck. Photo / Otago Daily Times

An investigation is under way into what role synthetic cannabis may have played in a car crash that claimed the life of a teenager.

Liam Christopher Stevenson, 16, died when his car crossed the centre line and collided with a container truck on May 19 in Dunedin.

The Weekend Herald has learned that Kronic synthetic cannabis was found in the wreckage of his car.

Yesterday, Dunedin police declined to comment as the matter was before the coroner.

Liam, an Otago Polytechnic student, was described by his former principal at Logan Park High School, Jane Johnson, as a "bright young man" with a lot of ability.

The Government yesterday announced tough new measures against synthetic cannabis.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said that within weeks, the Government would have the ability to "severely curtail" the marketing and sale of the drugs, which mimic the effects of cannabis but are not illegal.

Last night, Prime Minister John Key told the Weekend Herald that he backed the action.

"The sooner the better," he said.

But one health professional said the changes did not go far enough and drugs like Kronic would still be widely available in dairies.

Dr Leo Shep, a toxicologist at the National Poisons Centre in Dunedin, said: "We have these kids who don't know what they're doing.

"They need to be protected by the law, and they're not being protected by the law.

"My beef is that it's so accessible. That's what I find so galling ... You can go to your local dairy and buy it."

Synthetic cannabis products are barred under the Smoke Free Environments Act from being sold to anyone under 18.

But Mr Dunne said police would now "feel more confident they have a package of things to enforce".

As a restricted substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act, synthetic cannabis will not be able to be sold at petrol stations, places where children gather, such as recreational facilities, or where alcohol is sold.

Products will have to be stored in child-proof containers carrying the phone number of the National Poisons Centre, and information on ingredients and health warnings.

The drugs will still be able to be sold at dairies, but advertising will be restricted to within the store, in a similar way to tobacco.

Mr Dunne said those restrictions would ensure sales were largely limited to "the person who knows that's the store to go buy it".

He denied that group now included most young people.

"I'm not sure the cat's out of the bag permanently. It's certainly having a bit of a run around the field at the moment".

Synthetic cannabis had been due to become a restricted substance by April, but Mr Dunne said that would now happen about mid-August.

Yesterday's announcement came after the Herald reported that:

* Auckland City Hospital's emergency doctors often treat one or two synthetic cannabis users a day.

* The National Poisons Centre receives about 10 calls a month about the drugs - a sharp increase.

* Synthetic cannabis is being sold to minors - one Newmarket dairy sold Kronic to a 15-year-old in a Herald "sting" without asking for ID.

The Government will also consider a Law Commission recommendation to make firms gain permission before selling synthetic drugs.

The would-be seller would have to prove the drugs were safe.

Such products can now be sold unless they are proven harmful.

Mr Dunne said he felt the recommendations gave a long-term solution to regulating the drugs.

But he said action would not be taken on them until after the election.

"We're under certain statutory requirements and we have the complications of a general election occurring in the middle of it."

Western Australia's Health Minister, Kim Hames, said on Monday that the state would ban synthetic cannabinoids such as Kronic.

The law changes
* Synthetic cannabis will not be sold at petrol stations or where alcohol is sold or at places where children gather such as recreational facilities.
* It will be packaged in child-proof containers with information on substances, health warnings, and the National Poisons Centre's phone number.
* Advertising will be restricted to within stores, much the same way as tobacco.
* Changes expected by mid-August.

- NZ Herald

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