The new legal highs legislation has put New Zealand at the forefront of the issue and the world is watching, says Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway.
At a public meeting last night at the UCOL atrium, local health providers, social workers and other interested parties gathered to hear Mr Lees-Galloway explain the new Psychoactive Substances legislation, and Alcohol and Other Drug Services' spokeswoman Ann Flintoft talk about the effects of legal highs.
Mrs Flintoft said 17 of the service's 47 referrals in the last month were for legal-high-related problems. The organisation received phone calls daily from concerned parents and doctors seeking withdrawal advice.
The ingredients mimicked the chemical found in cannabis, but had a much stronger affinity to receptors in the brain, making the chances of dependence and tolerance much stronger, she said.
Mr Lees-Galloway said that as Labour's lead spokesman on it, he had been "intimately" involved with the legislation.
From July 18, new laws banned the substances from dairies. They became R18, new labelling was introduced - meaning manufacturers must list the ingredients - and retailers and manufacturers now require licences.
In Palmerston North, the Manawatu Standard understands just one store, Lots of Pots, is still able to sell the substance and it will have to apply for a licence to continue to do so.
Manufacturers of legal highs have to apply for a substance to be approved, and apply for a licence to manufacture or import that substance.
They will then have three months to demonstrate to the Ministry of Health that they are working toward clinical trials to get those substances approved.
However, regulations to set up the testing regime have not yet been put in place.
Mr Lees-Galloway said that, at a guess, testing would take about six months to sort out, but it did give manufacturers the ability to demonstrate willingness to engage with the testing process.
"I think as long as everyone takes a commonsense approach to this, it will be possible for the substances which the manufacturers believe are likely to pass the clinical trials, to stay on the shelf.
"I firmly believe that the manufacturers already know which products they think are going to pass and which are going to fail."
Mr Lees-Galloway said it was "really exciting" that New Zealand was leading the way with the legislation, and hoped other countries would feel "empowered" to follow suit.
At any time, the Ministry of Health could pull a product if it was found to cause harm, even if it had been approved, he said.
"Basically we're saying this is innovative, it's world leading, there's probably going to be some bits in it that we're going to quickly figure out we need to change, but we've made it a requirement that we review it after five years and look at the things we need to tweak."
Also in the legislation is provision for local communities to have a say as to where legal highs can be sold, in the same way as councils have a role in where alcohol stores are opened.
Mayor Jono Naylor said that provision was news to him, and at this stage it had not been made clear in the legislation what role the council would have.
If councils were to play a role, it would be further down the track, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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