A central Auckland dairy owner who used to sell legal highs is now so convinced of their danger that he has banned them from his store and actively warns customers who ask for them.
The Weekend Herald visited 10 Auckland dairies yesterday and found only one owner, Jaydee Patel, who cautions customers against synthetic cannabis products when asked for K2 at his Victoria St West store.
Just one other dairy did not sell legal highs. Many were expecting the new version of K2 within the next few days, and K'Rd Groceries said the new product was hours away.
Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said the Government was playing a "cat-and-mouse game" with synthetic cannabis suppliers but promised to "win this battle with this irresponsible industry".
Mr Patel does not think dairies should be selling synthetic products because of the known health risks - a complete change of heart since the Herald interviewed him two years ago about selling Kronic, which is now banned.
Back then, he said he sold it only because the customers he turned away went to his competitors, and his rent had gone up.
But now he realises there is more at stake than money.
"The money's just not worth it. There are huge profit margins on it, but it's not worth selling it."
Mr Patel said that as soon as he learned about the dangers he took the product off his shelves.
Before it started hitting the headlines, he and his wife, Pratima, did not know how harmful it could be.
"We just didn't want it on our conscience and to be associated with it," Mrs Patel said.
People from all walks of life - from students to business people -come in every day asking for synthetic cannabis and are disappointed when they're told the store doesn't sell it.
But despite losing the profits from the products, Mr Patel does not think he has lost much business because the people wanting K2 or similar products buy only them and nothing else.
"I don't think it should be sold in dairies."
Mr Dunne said samples of the new K2 synthetic cannabis products that hit the market yesterday to replace the recently banned products had already been purchased for testing.
"It is a cat-and-mouse game for now and if the industry wants to play it, we will play it too until we get the Psychoactive Substances Bill into law in August to fix this situation."
Mr Dunne said he wanted the testing of the new K2 products done as quickly as possible because no one could have any confidence in the integrity of those behind them.
"They are out to make a fast buck before the new legislation comes in and they have demonstrated time and again that they have not the slightest interest in the health and well-being of the young New Zealanders who use their products," he said.
The Psychoactive Substances Bill is before the health select committee and will be reported back to Parliament in mid-June. It will become law in time to replace the Temporary Class Drug Notices regime in August.
"We will win this battle with this irresponsible industry," Mr Dunne said.
Meanwhile, police around the country have been checking dairies to see if they are still selling the banned varieties of synthetic cannabis.
Mr Dunne banned two substances, BB-22 and 5F-AKB48, both of which were found in K2. Since Thursday it has been illegal to import, manufacture, sell or supply the substances, with penalties of up to eight years' imprisonment for offenders.
Northland police Senior Constable James McCullough said one of the problems with synthetic products was that they did not list their ingredients so retailers did not know what they were selling and if they contained the two banned chemicals or not.
"The retailer is taking the risk that the products they are stocking don't contain the two chemicals. If they do take the risk and we find their products do have these banned chemicals in them, we will take action," Mr McCullough told the Northern Advocate newspaper.
He urged retailers still selling them to think about the social consequences and the other potential risks.
- Additional reporting: Natalie Ulugia