Pam Corkery: New synthetic drugs law is simply insane

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Photo / Sarah Ivey
Photo / Sarah Ivey

The full horror of the Psychoactive Substances Act has landed.

More than 100 retailers are selling 28 brands of synthetic highs - with the blessing of 119 MPs who voted for insane legislation now implemented by the Ministry of Health.

New Zealand leads the world in enabling the glibly titled "party pill king" Matt Bowden to make huge dollars from the sale of untested drugs.

Bowden has been allowed to buy a temporary licence to retail, import and manufacture synthetic highs, and is planning a pioneering factory on Auckland's North Shore to keep them coming.

The rationale behind the interim legitimacy of the drugs is that working with Bowden and his fellow travellers will be more effective than prohibition at reducing harm.

Selling drug supply licences prior to testing for harm is seen as a show of good faith towards the synthetic drug industry.

Ministry spokesman Dr Stewart Jessamine expects that drug designers will repay the gesture by being responsible.

Dr Jessamine obviously moves in different circles from me.

To be fair to the good doctor who has a solid history with the ministry, the legal-high lunacy is in the Psychoactive Substances Act. The lawmakers and their supporters decided they were powerless over the synthetic drug recipes.

The concoctions can be quickly adjusted, making it impossible to keep legal pace with successive versions of an original outlawed dose.

New South Wales legislators were faced with the same problem.

They decided to use the National Poisons Schedule for two years to ban whole classes of drugs, not just individual components, to give them breathing space to get a handle on this new generation of highs. Go figure.

Back here it beggars belief that temporary licences can be bought for $10,000 to traffic synthetic drugs to keep the industry onside until appropriate regulations are established.

The testing regime might not be in place until next year by which time the manufacturers will have banked large profits.

When the protocols are ready, the designers are given another month's grace to decide whether to submit their products for examination.

It's not a big leap to suggest they will simply withdraw their drugs du jour from the market, avoid paying the nearly $200,000 just to get the approval process started, then whip up a slightly altered batch, and apply for another temporary licence. On to the market will come a new wave of untested drugs.

No lawmaker or scientist can know the possible long-term damage of these unholy products.

It could be memory loss, a new fetal drug syndrome, or severe mental impairment.

That's on top of the inevitable hell life for the users, their loved ones, and the negative impact on the wider community.

The massive profits and the drugs' legal status will encourage the addition of masking agents to the highs. Workplace drug-testing will become more difficult and more expensive, and screening kids at home will be priced out of reach for most desperate parents.

So why the panic with the temporary licences? I don't get it.

New Zealanders have called for a stop to these drugs since Bowden introduced BZP and Kronic in the mid-2000s.

There have been hikoi, protests outside puff-shops, citizens with placards, and volunteers helping health officers and police to check on dairy-owners selling this rubbish.

Those immediately impacted by the drug-users have bled their guts publicly to get the substances out of their communities.

Bowden has been in the media too. After touring overseas in his rock star persona, he's back and being socialised into the public consciousness - as a businessman talking about his venture.

The tolerance given this bloke is nuts. Imagine if Bowden were a tattooed gangster instead of an odd looking man in full makeup, with a nasty dye-job, dressed in 80s Split Enz attire.

I firmly believe that the 119 MPs who voted for this law did so to show that they were liberal-minded, well-adjusted, down with the peeps, almost groovy.

They're not. New Zealand doesn't want these drugs. We've got more than enough already.

The main consumers of synthetic highs are young people - because of the price. The legal green light will ratchet up experimentation by a minority to the status of a rite of passage for the majority. Kids will use them to be cool. The thing is it can be fatally cool.

This insane law must become an election issue next year.

- NZ Herald

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