Lobbying by mayors led to ban on legal highs

BEN HEATHER
Last updated 05:00 23/07/2014

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A nationwide mayoral revolt against legal highs put immense pressure on the Government to ban the drugs outright, newly released documents show.

A short-lived attempt to set up a legal market for new drugs such as synthetic cannabis drew 148 submissions earlier this year, many of them calling on the Government to abandoned its plans and ban the substances.

The submissions, released by the Ministry of Health this month, show that 40 of the country's 67 mayors asked the Government to ban all psychoactive substances, some claiming that MPs were not listening to the growing number of "horror stories" emerging from communities damaged by drugs.

The group submission, co-ordinated by Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn, was supported by nearly every provincial mayor, as well as the two Hutt Valley and Porirua mayors.

However, mayors of most of the main cities - including Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland - did not sign the submission.

In a separate submission, Napier City Council said it was "inconceivable" that central government would try to establish a legitimate market for mind-altering drugs.

"Central government has shown a lack of courage in attacking these issues that may have the mental health ramifications to the wider community for years to come."

Grey District Council accused the Government of taking an "abhorrent and retrograde step for New Zealand society".

"This matter relates to the very fabric of New Zealand society and represents recognition on the part of the Crown that drugs have a legitimate place in it."

However, others including Wellington City Council were more restrained, arguing that any regulated legal high market needed to include tougher restrictions on retailers, including hefty penalties and police background checks.

The Government said on April 27 that it was pulling all psychoactive substance off the shelves amid a growing public backlash. The move came less than nine months after it tried to set up a legal market for the substances, restricting and licensing retailers and brands.

The U-turn was celebrated in many communities but the industry, and some experts, said that the trade would simply be taken over by the uncontrolled black market.

Although it is possible new psychoactive substances could eventually be approved for sale, health officials have said restrictions on animal testing would make it difficult, if not impossible, to prove they were "low risk" enough for human consumption.

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- The Dominion Post

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