A regulated market for lower risk drugs should be on the table as politicians seek ways to stop people dying from using synthetic cannabis, the Drug Foundation says.
Executive director Ross Bell has welcomed a move by the Government to urgently seek ways to reduce deaths after new figures showed a big spike in the past year.
"New Zealanders should be really angry that no action was taken 12 months ago. We should be angry that we ignored the warnings. First of all there were seven deaths, then 10, then 20. We didn't act then," Bell said.
It was difficult to keep tabs on what changes were being made to synthetic cannabis as the chemicals changed all the time.
"We didn't have that when these products were regulated where the industry had to prove what was in them.
"They're quite dangerous chemicals and then the added problem is that the way they're manufactured, often people don't know how much they should dilute it, how concentrated the dose is. So often they're spraying high concentrations of this chemical on to the plant matter without getting the right dose," Bell said.
"Fundamentally, a regulated market for lower risk drugs, that could include a regulated market for natural cannabis. I think that should be on the table ... I think it should be part of the mix."
Long-time Wellington drug and alcohol counsellor Roger Brooking said legalising cannabis would go a long way to solving the problem.
"I have so many clients who've told me that the only reason they've purchased synthetics because they couldn't get regular cannabis from their dealer.
"If cannabis was legalised it makes total sense that people would be far less likely to start experimenting with stuff that they don't even know what's in it.
"They want to control the illicit drug, whatever it is. What they need to be doing is legalising cannabis so that people don't buy the synthetics."
Brooking said a referendum on personal use of cannabis was a "complete and utter waste of money".
"The evidence is crystal clear that where drugs have been legalised, in particular where cannabis is legalised. Most of the problems associated with drug use are from enforcement, from the underworld, from gangs getting involved. Its not the drug itself that causes the harm, its the prohibition of the drug that causes the harm," he said.
Cabinet is seeking urgent advice over the spike in deaths linked to the use of synthetic cannabis.
Provisional figures from the coroner show that up to 45 people had died through using synthetic cannabis in the year to June, compared with only two deaths in the previous five years.
The Ministers of Health, Justice, Police and Customs are seeking urgent advice on how to reduce the number of deaths.
Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters has acknowledged that the Government, and previous governments, hadn't come up with solutions that had worked.
Health Minister David Clark said it was deeply concerning that the number of deaths had spiked.
"We need to know as ministers whether there are other things we can do that will work more immediately to address the issue."
Synthetic drugs were constantly being reformulated and it was difficult to keep up with what was on the market but reclassifying them was being reconsidered, Clark said.
Police Minister Stuart Nash said it was difficult to know what was in them.
"The thing about synthetic is you just never know what's in it. So it's everything from people in their back sheds with grass clippings and flyspray rolling stuff up to stuff that's being imported.
"People are dying because we don't know what's in this stuff."