After months of pressure from residents, politicians and a campaign by the Waikato Times, the sale of legal highs has been temporarily banned at six Hamilton puff shops.
In a move hailed as a success, the Ministry of Health announced its decision to suspend the licences of the sellers last night, following the adoption of Hamilton City Council's psychoactive substances policy late last month.
The stores have been banned from selling the products for 21 days effective immediately.
Further regulatory action, which could include lifting the suspensions or cancelling licences, will be taken after the ministry has investigated the council's policy more thoroughly.
Last night Mayor Julie Hardaker praised the Government's swift action.
"Hamilton is a city for families and it's not OK to have people smoking a drug on the street in full view of children."
The council had been "virtually powerless" to deal with the damage caused by legal highs, she said. She was pleased the Government took note of the community.
Three Victoria St sellers - Video Expo, Adult World and Weng & Li - had their licenses suspended.
Smoko's Discount Tobacco Specialist in Te Rapa, Peaches and Cream on Anglesea St and Grey St puff shop U njoY were also slapped with temporary bans.
For residents and businesses worried about a surge in antisocial behaviour they believed was linked to the puff shops, the decision could not have come sooner.
The decision also comes following a campaign by the Waikato Times featuring front page stories calling for changes to make it easier for local authorities to deal with puff shops.
Hamilton East businessman Ren Hammington, who helpedgalvanise residents' opposition to the Grey St puff shop, said he was delighted with the outcome.
"We're very pleased to see they've taken action so swiftly. Certainly the community will be excited in the morning to see these stores are closed."
It was likely regular users of psychoactive substances won't be happy this morning when they learn their local puff shops have been temporarily banned from selling product.
Waikato Times visited Grey St's U njoY yesterday afternoon to find buyers looking anxious as the shop was closed.
Hammington said he would like to see the shop's licences cancelled eventually, but he respected there was a process to follow.
"Hamilton's policy is pretty bold so naturally I think the ministry wants to do things right.
"We don't want anything called into question later."
Hamilton East Community Trust chairperson Lois Livingston said she hoped Hamilton East could now get back to what it was before the store opened.
Victoria Street camera store owner Graham Boswell said he was extremely pleased with the suspensions.
"I think the council have done a great job."
Hamilton electorate MPs David Bennett and Tim Macindoe, who lobbied the ministry for prompt action, also welcomed the decision.
"We've listened and acted very quickly on the concerns of the residents and people of Hamilton."
Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne praised the ministry's Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority, who were responsible for the suspensions.
Dunne, who holds portfolio responsibility for psychoactive substances, said Hamilton was one of the first councils to adopt a psychoactive substances policy.
Under council rules adopted two weeks ago, legal high sellers were restricted to the city centre and had to operate at least 100m away from sensitive sites, effectively shutting down existing retailers temporarily.
Sensitive sites include - but are not limited to - schools, places of worship, community facilities and public spaces.
The Waikato River, the river walkway, public toilets and "key bus stops" are also classified as sensitive.
Currently, licensed legal high sellers can't move to a new address or apply for a new licence.
Applications for full retail licences are expected to be available mid-2015.
- Waikato Times
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