Police take liquor store to court for selling legal Kronic

An inner-city Auckland Liquor store owner is angry he was targeted by a police staffer who took him to court and threatened to take away his license for selling legal synthetic cannabis products.

The Liquor Licensing Authority today heard an application from police to suspend, cancel or vary the licence of Liquor & Tobacco City on Victoria St West.

The application followed numerous visits to the store by police alcohol harm reduction administrator Gary Whittle, who told the court he had formed the opinion that synthetic cannabis products were similar to now-banned party pills and should therefore not be sold.

Mr Whittle provided store duty manager Rishi Sharma with a copy of a previous authority ruling which said it was irresponsible for a licensee to sell party pills alongside liquor.

But Mr Sharma refused to remove the products from the shelves as there was no law saying it was illegal to sell them.

"He was telling me about how party pills were banned, but this had nothing to do with Kronic," he told NZPA outside of court.

"If there is a law I will follow every term and every word of it, but the law should be nationwide and not just for Liquor and Tobacco City."

Mr Sharma got clarification from the police and the Ministry of Health that no such law existed, yet.

The officer in charge of the police alcohol harm reduction unit, Sergeant Bryce Law, said it was decided to take the matter to court for clarification on the issue and it was never actually the police's intention to cancel the licence.

"These guys were adamant that they wanted it in writing but we couldn't give it to them in writing because it wasn't illegal to sell it so we had to go to the authority to get a ruling.

"The only way we could do that was to file an application for variation, suspension or cancellation of their licence."

However, store owner Suresh Patel said he had been under the impression police wanted to cancel his licence and he had been worried he could lose his business.

"If Gary (Whittle) would have given that impression in the first place - that we were going to the hearing to sort out this problem and that we were just going to be used as a test case - then the feeling would have been different. But it was intimidating - he had a very threatening approach."

Mr Patel said it was not the first time Mr Whittle had tried to stop them selling legal products.

He had previously demanded that they stop selling single cans of alcohol.

"When I asked why he said 'because I say so'. We took it as gospel that we weren't allowed to sell single cans but we started getting a lot of bad feeling from our customers. When we saw that other shops were still selling single cans we found out from a police sergeant that we could sell them."

Mr Patel said because Parliament was reviewing the Misuse of Drugs Act with an eye to making synthetic cannabis illegal, today's court hearing was a waste of time and money.

Judge John Hole said Mr Patel was performing an important public service by being the respondent in the matter so it could be addressed by the authority, despite it being an involuntary appearance.

He reserved his decision.

- NZPA

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