Makers of synthetic drugs predict the Government's "surprise" ban on their products will force 80 shops to close their doors and 200 staff to lose jobs as the industry faces a two or three-year hiatus until its brands can return to shelves.
Prime Minister John Key revealed yesterday that a drug-testing regime was unlikely to be in place until mid or late-2015. The delay in implementation was partly due to his concern about the level of animal testing required for the regime to be robust.
Once the regime was in place, manufacturers could have to wait another 12 to 18 months for their products to be proven to be "low-risk".
Parliament will pass emergency legislation next week to remove the remaining 42 synthetic products which had been given temporary approval while the testing regime was being developed.
Police were warning retail outlets to be vigilant because they expected consumers to become desperate ahead of the ban. Patrick, a shop assistant at Puffing Stuff in Papakura, said he had been warned about robberies and attacks. The 25 year-old expected to lose his job when the legislation took effect in a fortnight.
Grant Hall, a spokesman for legal highs lobby group Star Trust, said about 200 people were likely to be forced out of work by the law change, because 80 retail outlets depended solely on synthetic drug sales.
He said the Government's flip-flop was a "huge surprise" for the industry because Associate Minister Peter Dunne had repeatedly insisted that a total ban would not work.
"He was adamant. This about-turn contradicts everything he said about the futility of banning products."
Mr Hall was disappointed the decision appeared to have been made for political reasons.
Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority manager Donald Hannah told the Herald yesterday that the number of severe presentations to emergency departments has reduced since the Psychoactive Substances Act came into force in August.
Mr Key said the Government could not be certain that the 42 remaining synthetic drugs were responsible for the negative health effects which had been observed. But Cabinet felt the clearest way forward was to ban all products until they could be rigorously tested. He said the Government made a mistake in giving waivers to the 42 brands. He also revealed the testing regime was being held up because he was uncomfortable about the use of animals in drugs trials.
Labour said it would not allow any animals to be used in tests because alternative tests were available.
Tinny houses and gangs will flourish, warn users
Gangsters and tinny houses will see their business boosted thanks to next week's ban on synthetic cannabis, say regular users of "legal highs".
"I reckon normal weed is way better because you don't get no side-effects," said Marina, a 28-year-old mother shopping yesterday at Manurewa's Heaven and Dreams.
But roughly equal numbers of synthetic cannabis users said they would simply stop taking drugs if the ban is effective because natural cannabis now has no effect on them after taking stronger synthetics.
"I can't go back to weed, it doesn't do nothing no more," said Dylan, also 28, a machine operator. "I'll just give up, stick to ciggies."
Ten shops selling synthetic cannabis up and down South Auckland's Great South Rd showed few signs of people stocking up after the decision to ban synthetics from May 8.
One man bought 10 packets, and a shopkeeper said others had phoned up asking for bulk supplies, but all other customers observed yesterday bought only one or two packets - sometimes literally counting out their last coins to do so.
In South Auckland, one shopkeeper estimated that 80 per cent of his customers are Maori and most are on low incomes. But most of those buying yesterday had jobs.
Jess, 32, said she bought synthetics for her partner, a construction worker, because they didn't show up in drug tests like natural cannabis.
"He'll probably just give it up. That'll save us $20 a day," she said.
Fencing worker Murray, 22, also buying at Heaven and Dreams, said people would go back to tinny houses.
"I prefer it here, because having tinny houses in the hood is not good for the kids," he said.
Benjamin Ruka, 30, said he smoked synthetics to relieve physical leg pain caused by an old traffic accident and mental pain caused by the death of his baby son in 2012 and a recent break-up with his partner. He has suffered depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
"It helps me," he said. "If they stop it, people are going to jump into weed straight away."
Two former members of a gang called "the SAs", named after South Auckland, said they used synthetics "to relax, to chill out, to stimulate my mind".
"It's good for society, too. No cops are going to bother you, they can't come up to us and say, 'Why are you smoking it?'," they said.
"If they cut it, people are going to start going back to tinny houses and it's going to promote people picking up tinnies from gang members and houses."
- Simon Collins
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