Public invited to comment on legal high ban

A council's moves to heavily restrict retail sales of legal highs are to be applauded but the real problem is internet sales, a campaigner against the products said.

At its meeting yesterday, South Wairarapa District Council voted to invite public feedback on plans to restrict the sale of synthetic drugs which have reportedly provoked reactions including psychotic episodes and insomnia. 

The draft policy seeks to add another layer of local restrictions on top of those put in place nationally last year.

Legislation passed in July restricts the sale of substances such as party pills and synthetic cannabis from dairies and grocery stores and limits their sale to specialist R18 stores and tobacconists.

Sellers have to apply for permission to sell the products and South Wairarapa council planning manager Murray Buchanan told councillors the application process was already very stringent.

However community concern in South Wairarapa was such the council had decided to seek public feedback on additional restrictions available to it, he said.

Councils cannot implement a local ban but can prevent retailers from opening close to sensitive areas, such as those often used by teens.

Deputy Mayor Viv Napier said even though the restrictions available were limited, the council needed to do all it could to address the issue, which has caused widespread concern in the districtnte.

Measures included in the draft Local Approved Products Policy include restricting legal high outlets to commercial zones at least 100m from sensitive areas such as kindergartens, primary schools, parks and churches, and 500m from secondary schools and skateparks. Legal high retailers cannot be within 100m of another shop selling the products, nor within 100m of a residential zone. 

If they are within 50m of a ‘‘fully manned’’ police station some of the restrictions could be relaxed, which provoked discussion at the meeting about staffing levels at south Wairarapa police stations.

South Wairarapa’s decision follows the participation of several councillors, alongside their Carterton and Masterton district counterparts, in a regional working group on psychoactive substances.

Carterton district councillor and working party chair Jill Greathead lauded South Wairarapa’s move and said it would likely be followed by the other two Wairarapa councils.

But it was ‘‘just a small part of a really major problem’’ and the big issue was internet sales, she said. 

‘‘[Teens] have all got smart phones and they’ll just go to the skate park, go on a website and have it at their house the following day, unmarked so their parents won’t even know.’’ 

Merely restricting location and density was not enough and a community-wide educative response involving police, schools, health providers and others was needed, she said.

The Dominion Post