Move does little but open door to further intrusions
Very late in the piece, the Lotteries Commission has effectively prohibited all its outlets from selling synthetic cannabis and party pills. It says that it cannot wait until the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which will ban unsafe legal highs late next month, becomes law. Therefore, all independently owned Lotto outlets will have to stop selling party drugs by the end of the month or risk losing their Lotto products.
Given the financial benefit that these retailers derive from Lotto, this amounts to a ban. It also amounts to an intrusion that these shopkeepers have some justification for resenting, and for viewing as the start of a potentially slippery slope.
The Lotteries Commission says it is worried at the damage that having Lotto associated with untested party drugs could do to its brand, as well as the physical and mental harm that youthful users are suffering. It is not alone there.
A survey by the Auckland Chamber of Commerce members two years ago found a high and justifiable level of concern, especially in terms of the drugs inciting violence, psychotic outbursts and rapid addiction. Some dairy owners, very commendably, took it upon themselves to stop selling legal highs on the basis that being available legally does not make these substances safe. In that context, the Lotteries Commission's action is a consistent gesture.
The commission has always been careful to protect its brand. The retail agreement with independent outlets specifies certain standards of decor and service. That is reasonable enough. But effectively prohibiting them from selling a product ventures into new territory, and raises several questions. Brands of party drugs can be sold currently until the authorities prohibit them.
The commission's policy imposes an all-encompassing ban, yet a supermarket with a Lotto outlet on its premises will remain free to sell tobacco and liquor, the latter the recreational drug of choice for most adults and also the cause of considerable physical and mental harm.
And what of other products that are widely considered to be harmful or unhealthy? If the drums beat loudly enough, will the commission tell independent outlets they cannot sell sugar-laden drinks because they promote obesity? Will ice-cream share a similar fate? If that is drawing too long a bow, the precedent has been set.
The commission's approach is the more puzzling given the Psychoactive Substances Bill will, within a matter of weeks, take the issue off the agenda. It will ban dairies, service stations and grocery stores from selling synthetic cannabis and other legal highs even if rigorous clinical trials prove a product is safe.
That removes a quandary for the commission, which would have had to decide whether to continue to prohibit the selling of party drugs even though they had been deemed officially to pose no danger.
As it is, the commission's action risks looking like an opportunity to burnish its brand without causing undue financial harm to the 10 per cent of its independently owned Lotto outlets that are believed to sell legal highs. It could have acted five or six years ago. The damage wrought by the drugs has long been apparent.
An even more compelling reason to respond was provided by the cat-and-mouse game over the past couple of years as manufacturers rapidly changed chemical formulas to get around each new ban under the Temporary Class Drug Notices regime.
That the commission has chosen to act only now is odd. It does set an unfortunate precedent, without achieving much at all.