Group fights artificial drugs

By Erika Venter

A group of Stratford residents concerned by the availability of artificial cannabis in its community has called in the big guns to help.

The group, dubbed SCARS (Stratford Citizens Against Retailing of Synthetic Cannabinoids) last week sent a delegation to Chester Borrows, MP for Wanganui, Minister for Courts and Associate Minister of Justice and of Social Development, and met with Stratford mayor Neil Volzke.

"Enough is enough," says Stratford Salvation Army's Major Maureen Ashton, who is spearheading the group.

"The minute any food is found on supermarket shelves to be suspect of contamination it is withdrawn off the shelves and from sale until a full investigation has taken place. Why then can't all these synthetic cannabinoid drugs be withdrawn from sale and all investigated/analysed until proven 'safe' for retail?

"Horse meat won't have the same effect on our young people's brains as these drugs ... it appears government bodies around the world get their priorities wrong," she says referring to the horse meat scam overseas.

This action follows an open meeting at the end of last year, called by 'concerned grandmother' Joan Thomason.

"We have talked to the shop owner involved (the only one to sell the product in Stratford), but so far no success. We are planning more steps if needed," says Maureen.

The group also has a petition circulating in Stratford and Hawera for the government to urgently legislate against the sale of synthetic cannabinoids until proven safe.

"The ultimate would be that they would be withdrawn and banned completely from sale."

Their plea is supported by Youth Aid's Pete Wright, who says he has huge concerns about the product, having seen first-hand the effects. "From a police point of view I am against it. It is a danger to our community."

Alleged side affects include personality changes, depression and mood swings and increasing violent behaviour.

"The perception is that if it is a legal drug, it must be okay. People do not realise the dangers," says Maureen.

Chester Borrows says he spoke with the shop manager following the meeting, asking him how selling synthetic cannabis adds value to the community he serves.

"His response was very defensive, insisting only that the particular products he sells have not been banned. I also noticed he had a cannabis pipe for sale - relying on a quirk in the law that (states) implements like that are only illegal once they have been used to consume illegal substances.

"The manager refused to give me the name of the shop owner so I could take the matter up with them. This unhelpful attitude was very disappointing, and I will continue to support government efforts to prevent the sale of harmful substances to our young people."

Mayor Neil Volzke says it is "crazy" for the government not to withdraw the product from the market until proven safe.

"With this product there seem to be a huge period of inaction."

He says council has no legal authority, as it is not illegal to sale the product.

"But, in my personal view, the retailer concerned has a social and moral responsibility to withdraw the product from his shop. In that context, and on speaking to Constable Wright, I support getting the product off the shelves."

He plans to meet with the shop owner to explain the community's concerns expressed to him by a number of people and in letters received.

"I hope common sense will prevail and he will withdraw it immediately."

- Stratford Press

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