Last week I appealed to our local MPs to help us with our psychoactive substances or legal high issue. Since then I've had response from Hastings MP Craig Foss and Napier's Chris Tremain of the National Party and MP Meka Whaitiri of the Labour Party and this region's Maori seat.
The Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 essentially provides for the manufacture, import, distribution, and retail of mind-altering substances provided that they create no more than low risk of harm. Councils can control the location of premises selling psychoactive products, but not ban their sale. My contention was that the creation of this legislation is a step in the right direction, but does not go far enough and that nothing less than an outright ban of these unnecessary products would suffice for the protection of our communities.
Chris Tremain was empathetic of the situation being a scourge on our communities. He explained that at this point in time a significant majority of Parliamentarians have decided that regulation is the best way forward. By regulating the product Parliament can require that they be tested and control where they're being sold. As a result already a number of products have been removed from the market. The alternative, to ban the products, would have certainly removed them from shops but not from the market, ie the black market, and worse there would have been absolutely no control over what was in the products, no testing, and therefore serious harm.
I responded I have no doubt these substances would still exist on the black market if banned, however, they would be significantly more difficult to access and therefore society could expect a decrease in their use and negative effects considering that decreased access and decreased use correlate strongly.
Furthermore, I explained I understood the number of outlets permitted to sell the products has decreased significantly and I would lean towards applauding this, however, only if a significant decrease in the actual product sales numbers overall correlated with the decrease in premises selling them. When a retailer was questioned in council about the number of sales that they make they responded that information was sensitive and withheld from us. If withheld then I'm confused as to where the numbers come from in ascertaining a decrease in sales numbers.
Nevertheless, the law is what the law is at the moment so let's use it, or so I thought. The onus of proof proving a product is low risk is on the manufacturer. My question was how is the criteria set in determining what's low risk, who determines this and what process or avenue is available should contrary evidence be presented that the products are not low-risk. Craig Foss responded this determination rests with the Ministry of Health. Disappointed our community seemingly has little ability to feed into what I see as this critical process, I only hope this issue is at an interim time and further reviews of the current Parliament position will be taken.
Mr Tremain asserts that no doubt the policy will be shaped by people in our communities who are experiencing the effects of these substances and I add by those standing up to ensure their voice is heard.
On the weekend I joined a march organised by a Hawke's Bay suicide awareness group. Though seemingly different in issue, unfortunately the correlation between these legal mind, mood and behaviour altering highs and suicide is increasingly reported. Meka Whaitiri joined the march as a show of support. It's my belief that our governors or Parliamentarians are entrusted with significant responsibility in creating and overseeing laws that protect and enhance our communities. It's a difficult job and arena, but one where community can have influence. We as a community need to continue to combat the destructive elements at a grass-roots level while asserting it still needs to be addressed more adequately at a political level.