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Legal highs on agenda

JAMES IRELAND
Last updated 05:00 18/03/2014

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A city-wide policy to limit where legal highs can be sold will be developed over the next year, Auckland Council has pledged.

It has earmarked $95,000 to investigate, write and seek public feedback for its Local Approved Products Policy.

Manurewa-Papakura ward councillor Calum Penrose says seeking input from local boards and communities is the right way to proceed with forming a policy.

"We need to take our time with it and make sure it's done right. This is a significant issue for communities all over Auckland."

But that approach hasn't pleased Maori public health advocate Antony Thompson, who says the council is behind the eight ball on the issue.

"Other councils such as Hamilton, Tauranga and Palmerston North have already brought in increased regulation to restrict where vendors can sell their drugs. Now is the time to make it known that synthetic cannabis is no good for our whanau and is hurting the ones we love.

"I'm seeing other districts in New Zealand regulate and control these drugs and I think it's time for Auckland to do the same."

Manurewa Local Board chairwoman Angela Dalton presented the board's position paper on the issue to the council's regional strategy and policy committee.

If the board gets its way, legal highs will be able to be sold only within the town centre and not within 100 metres of sensitive areas such as schools, early childhood centres, places of worship and community facilities.

The board's proposal also includes the clause that a licence to sell legal highs cannot be issued within 500 metres of another one. The final council policy is expected to be adopted in February next year and the Ministry of Health will put regulations into effect in mid-2015.

The Psychoactive Substances Act came into force in July last year. It's operating under an interim licensing regime while the full set of regulations are developed.

The number of premises licensed to sell legal highs dropped by 95 per cent when the act came into force.

But Counties Manukau police west area commander Inspector Jason Hewett says there can be 30 or 40 people queuing outside the remaining stores in the morning.

"In one way the law has reduced the proliferation of the product.

"On the other hand we now have only one shop in my area and it is a big drawcard for users."

Mr Hewett says there have been reports of children purchasing or attempting to purchase legal highs but police have not witnessed that.

Manukau ward councillor Arthur Anae says there will always be a black market but if the location of legal highs can be regulated then the police can keep on top of it.

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"We would like to eliminate [legal highs] but that doesn't look likely. We need to reduce their presence and keep them away from kids."

Public submissions on psychoactive substances regulations are open until Friday and can be made at health.govt.nz.

- Manukau Courier

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