Tauranga City Council has unanimously voted to develop a legal high policy after an impassioned plea from a drug counsellor who revealed local children as young as 11 are addicted to synthetic cannabis.
Bay of Plenty District Health Board's youth, alcohol and other drugs (CAMHS) spokesman David Gilmour spoke at yesterday's City Vision Committee meeting to plead with council to "join the fight" and start working on a Psychoactive Substances Policy.
Mr Gilmour revealed drug and alcohol organisations in the Bay were working with children addicted to legal highs in the majority of Tauranga high schools as he called on council to make it harder for legal high retailers to trade.
"We are seeing children as young as 11," he said. "There is a lot of looseness around selling in Tauranga, we know underage kids are buying these products themselves, they do not need an older friend to get it for them."
The council could legislate tougher rules including where and when legal highs could be sold,and the cost of a licence.
"At the moment there is very little limitation or restraint on who can sell," he said.
"There are arguments for upping the licence fee of $500 to $5000 and charging a $5000 annual fee to trade which would make it harder for many retailers."
Making rules around where legal highs could be sold would also help "claw back" some power, according to Mr Gilmour, who said there was a tobacco wholesaler "near Tauranga Hospital" selling to psychiatric patients.
"We know patients from the psychiatric ward wander down and go and get synthetics from there and then they wander back to hospital," he said.
"That sort of proximity to vulnerable people is a real issue and it is one that this council could change."
TCC staff had recommended council hold off from working on a policy until national regulations were put in place. However, elected members voted in favour of starting work on a policy immediately.
Councillor Steve Morris congratulated council on the unanimous vote and said he would personally like to see people who sold synthetic cannabis "run out of town".
"They are like a blowfly hanging around a community sore," he said. "They exploit the poor, the vulnerable and the feeble minded."
The council will include the Pyschoactive Substances Policy in the draft annual plan and will make submissions.