Legal high gains may still tempt

By Hamish McNeilly

A man smokes a synthetic joint. Photo / Stephen Parker
A man smokes a synthetic joint. Photo / Stephen Parker

While the legal high industry faces a major comedown following the announcement of hefty fees and testing costs, the potential rewards may still entice those wanting a slice of the multimillion dollar industry.

As part of the changes, legal high manufacturers will face $180,000 application fees and up to $2 million in testing costs for each product, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne announced yesterday.

In addition a minimum purchase age of 18 will be introduced, and dairies be barred from selling any legal products.

Mr Dunne said the unregulated legal high industry was worth "tens of millions of dollars", and the changes would put the onus of proof on manufacturers rather than the taxpayer.

Drug Foundation New Zealand chief executive Ross Bell said while the costs of the new regime appeared prohibitive, "I think there will be enough money to be made for people to have a crack".

"This is an industry when BZP was on the market, that was estimated at $25 million."

BZP was banned in 2008.

The established manufacturers in the legal high industry employed the services of top lawyers and chemists, and "they will certainly go for it".

Possible new products could mimic "chill out pills, and speedier drugs such as ecstasy", with synthetic cannabis also a possibility.

He hoped any future legal product would be sold in a plain pack containing health warnings, and attract an excise system funding prevention and education programmes.

Mr Bell said the legislation was a world first, and was a "much better system than leaving it for the criminal black market".

Dunedin toxicologist, Dr Leo Schep, of the National Poisons Centre, said there was a potential some products could "tick all the boxes".

It was worth noting, however, that pharmaceutical company Pfizer invested millions of dollars and years trying to develop a synthetic cannabinoid product, but the "psychoactive effects were too great".

"This is going to be a lottery, but I am sure the companies have a war chest that they have set up for this thinking it might be straight forwards . . . but I doubt it."

Sergeant Chris McLellan welcomed the Government's announcement, and said Dunedin police would continue to monitor the sale of current products, such as K2.

Last year the Government introduced Temporary Class Drug Notices that has taken 28 substances and more than 50 synthetic cannabis products off the market.

- Otago Daily Times

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