“We will ban Legal Highs,” NZ First
Legal highs are out of control and set to kill more New Zealanders unless stronger measures are taken say New Zealand First.
“New Zealanders are among the world’s biggest users of legal highs. This problem is really getting out of hand so we will certainly take action to fix it by banning the whole lot,” Le’aufaamulia Asenati Lole-Taylor, welfare and social policy spokesperson tells Pacific Guardians.
“Our caucus has decided that if New Zealanders vote us back to parliament, we will fight to have the bill repealed and ban all legal highs. And boost resources for the Police to carry out enforcements.”
She says the current law is not “working” and the situation made worse “because the Police minister keeps taking resources out of the Police so there is not enough funds or manpower to effectively respond to the epidemic of cases around the country.”
But the government says banning the drugs is not as effective as its new approach which has led to fewer drugs, fewer retailers, and less harm to health.
In July last year New Zealand became the first country in the world to establish a regulated licensed market for new psychoactive drugs also known as legal highs. The government concluded that the “banning of all psychoactive products” model favoured by Australian governments, such as New South Wales, was not keeping pace with the emergence of new drugs.
Associate Minister of Health, Peter Dunne told ABC radio earlier this week “about 95 per cent of the products that were on the shelves prior to the legislation have been removed. We’ve gone from having over 4,000 unregulated retail outlets to now 156 retail outlets, and anecdotally, we’re getting reports from hospital emergency rooms and others about a decrease in the number of people presenting with significant issues.”
COMMUNITY VIEW & ACTION
The current law also empowers local councils.
A clause in the Psychoactive Substances Act allows local councils to promote their own local policies that can restrict where legal high store are located.
This has happened in Hamilton where six outlets have been temporarily closed. Currently in the Wellington community of Naenae, spearheaded by local MP Trevor Mallard, has followed the same path having submitted a petition with more than 1,500 signatures to the Hutt City Council.
“We’re waiting to hear back from Hutt City Council but come the end of May we should see the closure of the Legal High store in Naenae,” Mr Anaru Ryall for Trevor Mallard’s office told Pacific Guardians.
On a personal level, a Tauranga mother whose son died earlier this month, believed as a result of smoking synthetic cannabis, has started a movement calling for a national ban of the drugs.
These are examples from New Zealand communities and families calling for stronger national action against legal highs.
BAN LEGAL HIGHS: THE DETAILS
Banning will require a law change that NZ First says it will fight for. A bill has yet to be drafted to show where those changes may likely take place but Le’au Asenati has identified two major weaknesses in the current law.
First is the lack of impact once a drug has been found to be illegal and is banned.
“In that scenario, the chemical that’s found to be illegal and is banned can be easily substituted with another chemical and you have a new drug, package it under a different name and it’s done.”
She compared it to a virus that mutates every time a vaccine is developed. The virus always stays one step ahead.
“That is the ongoing issue for New Zealand and why we will never be able to fix it unless we ban the whole lot.”
The second weakness according to her “is the law puts the responsibility on the person selling the drug to prove it is safe.”
Peter Dunne confirmed this in his ABC radio interview.
“What we’ve got to do is say, ‘You can only sell your products if you can prove that they are low risk to users’. Doesn’t mean we approve necessarily of people using them, but if they present a low risk to the user, then it’s legal for you to sell them.”
There are two weak aspects to interpretation of the law Le’au Asenati points out.
“First is the term ‘low risk’ as the minister puts it. Because an official at the NZ National Poisons Centre told the same media outlet [ABC radio] that legal highs are not low-risk drugs.”
The official was quoted as saying, “The major concern that we have here at the Poisons Centre is the long-term effects which are just starting to emerge now where you’ve got neuropsychiatric effects going on there, addiction issues going on there, withdrawal symptoms.”
Le’au Asenati added, “To me, that definition makes all legal highs ‘high risk to users’ so they may as well be banned”.
The second aspect she says is implications around the testing process. Currently, there are about 40 products that have interim government approval while safety testing continues.
“That whole testing process may take up to nine months, but in the meantime those shops are still licensed to sell legal highs. Their licenses do not have to wait until results of their drugs are known. And that is so significant because their ability to continue selling and making the drugs available is where under-aged users are vulnerable and exposed as they get older people to buy the drugs for them.
“And that is where the under resourced police force can’t keep up,” she stated.
“This is crucial in the whole cycle because when the police don’t apprehend the adults or catch the kids smoking the drugs, it means those kids are on their way to becoming addicts and heading to either a mental breakdown or death. We know that is true because that is what’s happening.”
She says she is not putting down the police as they are successful in dealing to some cases.
“The reality is the cases they’re able to solve are but small victories in a war we’re losing every day if things continue the way they are. Everyday, we are getting left further and further behind in the fight against these drugs.
“That’s why we believe the best way to stop this from happening; is not to have these drugs available by making them illegal.”