Government 'wimpish' over legal highs - Napier Mayor

By Harrison Christian, Sam Hurley -
Protesters are taking to the streets today in a nationwide call to have synthetic cannabis products banned.

Protest against legal highs outside a local legal highs vendor in Tokoroa. Photo / Herald on Sunday / John Van De Ven
Protest against legal highs outside a local legal highs vendor in Tokoroa. Photo / Herald on Sunday / John Van De Ven

New Zealanders have been let down by a "wimpish'' Government over its refusal to ban psychoactive substances, Napier Mayor Bill Dalton says.

"The Government has absolutely wimped out on this one,'' Mr Dalton said. "They tell us their regulatory regime is an experiment. If that is the case, then it is an experiment that is failing and resulting in a new wave of addicts in our country.''

His comments come after Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne listed Napier and Hastings as cities actively "restricting'' the sale of legal highs on TV1 on Thursday.

"I completely disagree with the comments made by [Dunne] on Seven Sharp. Ironically he held up Napier as one of the few cities making the most of their so-called power to `restrict' the sale of these vile things. We don't want them in our city.

"Why should we have to spend our time looking for loopholes to prevent them from being sold? One shop is one shop too many.

We want them banned.''

Mr Dunne told Hawke's Bay Today that Mr Dalton appeared unaware the Psychoactive Substances Act was passed by 119 votes to 1, with only John Banks voting against because of potential product treatment on animals.

"It [was] the will of a near unanimous Parliament rather than a Government policy. Such cross-party unanimity of view on such a controversial issue is not a frequent occurrence in Parliament.''

A blanket ban on all psychoactive substances was the only answer, Mr Dalton said.

"Peter Dunne claims that because these synthetic drugs are based on a chemical formula that can be changed, he can't ban them. That's rubbish. Why can't the Government put a blanket ban on all psychoactive substances and products and then exempt those that are covered by existing legislation?''

Mr Dunne said if it was a simple matter to "blanket ban'' psychoactive substances every Member of Parliament would have already opted for that approach.

"While such an approach might work on products known to exist, a blanket ban on yet to be developed psychoactive substances would be very difficult to implement and enforce.''

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He said any such ban would also have the effect of generating significant black market activity and use of more harmful substances, with none of the public health measures offered in a regulated environment.

He added while Mr Dalton may choose to believe otherwise, the Psychoactive Substances Act had been very effective in substantially reducing the number of psychoactive products as well as access to those products.

Last month the Ministry of Health forced the closure of the two legal high stores in Hastings, Adult Selections and Discretions, temporarily suspending their licences while it investigated potential breaches of the city's local approved products policy.

The 21-day licence suspensions was due to expire last Friday.

Hawke's Bay Today has learned the suspension of those licences has been extended indefinitely while the two shops' appeals against the decision are processed by the psychoactive substances appeal committee, created under the Psychoactive Substances Act.

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule hoped to win the appeals and agreed with his Napier counterpart in favour of a total ban.

"It is all very well for the Minister [Dunne] and other people to say Hastings and Napier are doing things to stop it but if we lose the appeals then we are back to square one again.''

He believed it was "unlikely'' Parliament would re-vote on the issue.

"I don't agree with the decision of Parliament. There have been dramatic reductions in the number of products sold and the number of stores selling them, to the point where there are only a couple of places per city selling but it simply is something we don't want in our community.''

Read: Legal highs linked to psychosis

Discretions store owner Gordon Arcus said he would not be opening his store while his synthetic cannabis licence was suspended.

He said it would take "eight weeks to get a week's overheads'' if he were to rely solely on sales of Adult DVDs and lingerie.

Mr Dalton said local councils were now forced to deal with the legal high issue after being "hung out to dry'' by the Government.

"I support the nationwide protests taking place [today] and I hope they might spur [Dunne] on to start listening to the people and stop gazing at his navel. Enough is enough.''

He said security footage taken from outside the Adult Selections Napier shop showed how lucrative the legal high business was.

"The owners of these shops are making huge amounts of money. There's no way they are going to voluntarily shut their doors. Any attempt we make to shut them down via the means suggested by Mr Dunne will be met with legal action because these guys have too much to lose.''

Customers were spending an estimated $7500 a day on psychoactive substances at the Napier store, even before an "influx'' of new shoppers when Hastings' stores were forced to close.

Meanwhile a nationwide rally against the sale of synthetic cannabis will take place today in the twin cities.

In Napier people will gather outside Adult Selections on Dickens St at 1pm, while in Hastings at 2.30pm protesters will congregate outside the Warehouse on Karamu Rd.

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