Wairarapa leaders back drug ban

By Vomle Springford

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ABOUT TIME: Jill Greathead (right), Wairarapa Psychoactive Substances working party chairwoman, pictured with deputy Pip Hannon, says the Government's move to pull legal highs off the shelves should have come sooner. PHOTO/LYNDA FERINGA
ABOUT TIME: Jill Greathead (right), Wairarapa Psychoactive Substances working party chairwoman, pictured with deputy Pip Hannon, says the Government's move to pull legal highs off the shelves should have come sooner. PHOTO/LYNDA FERINGA

Legal highs will be pulled off the market in two weeks and local authority leaders say it couldn't come soon enough.

Associate Minister Health Peter Dunne announced an urgent law would be passed to stop the sale of the psychoactive drugs from May 8.

He said it was impossible to attribute the drugs' effects - which were reported to national poisons centres - to any particular products. Therefore, all products would be banned from sale until proven to be low-risk.

The Psychoactive Substances Act, introduced last year, banned some synthetic drugs and required drug manufacturers to prove drugs were low-risk before they could be sold.

But because a Ministry of Health testing regime was not yet in place an expert committee had given temporary approval for 41 drugs to be sold.

No shops are in Wairarapa but drugs can be bought online and in Palmerston North and the Hutt.

Masterton Mayor Lyn Patterson said she was "absolutely rapt" the remaining drugs would be removed, and it was due to public pressure.

"The products should be banned, it's long overdue," she said. "The reality is we don't know how safe they are, there's no medical or scientific evidence to say that they are safe."

They could be available in future if proven safe but she hoped there would be a high threshold for testing.

She said there was no easy answer to social problems caused by the drugs but the Masterton and Carterton District Council's future combined local-approved products policy (LAAP) could help.

"That's the bigger issue for me, there's a wider conversation our community need to be having."

The Government should have made this move in the first place, said Wairarapa Psychoactive Substances Working Party chairwoman Jill Greathead. "They were backed into a corner, it was the only way out."

She said the Government had given them difficult legislation, at the expense of the taxpayer.

"I just feel the politicians who voted on the act clearly didn't know what was happening out there."

Mrs Greathead said the LAAP was effectively a farce and there was already a black market in Wairarapa. She knew from her teenage sons that legal highs were sold on school buses.

"I know kids have been smoking legal highs at the bus stop before they go to school."

It was too easy for minors to buy them online. She and her 17-year-old son had proved this by buying "Giggle", a synthetic cannabis, from an online NZ supplier.

She said drugs, illegal or legal, would always be around so education was the best tool to deter their use.

South Wairarapa Mayor Adrienne Staples said she was pleased the Government had taken the step: "For council, anything that we can do that keeps them off the street is a good thing."

It was impossible to ban them outright because manufacturers could easily change one chemical in the mix to create a new product.

She said the South Wairarapa District Council's LAAP, adopted last week, limited retailers.

Outlets in all three towns must be placed in the commercial zone - the main street area.

Carterton Mayor Ron Mark told The Nation on Saturday, before Peter Dunne's announcement, the law was flawed and Mr Dunne had got it wrong.

"He [Dunne] was told he should put in a regime that banned every product until it had gone through a pharmaceutical-like assessment process and until it had been proven to be safe but no, he took a shortcut."

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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