Council powerless to limit legal high locations

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 08:22 03/12/2013
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Laws relating to psychoactive substances prevent the Palmerston North City Council from responding to community fears about the proliferation of shops selling legal highs.

A deputation from the Passionate about Broadway group, supported by a petition signed by 1600 people, has asked the council to create a bylaw limiting where synthetic drugs can be sold.

But the council's community development committee meeting yesterday was unable to act on the proposal.

Policy analyst Julie Macdonald said it was not feasible.

All the council could do was formulate a policy to guide the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority about where outlets should be allowed, and it had to provide reasonable opportunity for people to make submissions before adopting a policy.

A draft policy would go to the council meeting this month, proposing consultation early next year. That was as fast as the council could move, she said.

Link Arcade hairdresser Elaine McKee said she had witnessed an increase in crime and people staggering around "out of their brain" since a nearby legal highs shop opened.

Her shop window had been broken, hair-straighteners had been stolen and she had been verbally abused.

She could not understand how the council could control alcohol in the central city but not control abuse of synthetic highs.

UCOL senior lecturer Lorna Johnson said staff were concerned about the Paradise shop's proximity, on a route used by students.

Some students were underage, and many were away from home and vulnerable to the temptation that had already spelt the end of study for some.

"They deserve a safe learning environment, not exposure to violent, unpredictable behaviour," she said.

She said the council should be advocating greater powers to be able to ban legal high outlets, not just limit where they could be.

"Nine premises already have licences or are under consideration. It will be much harder to close them than to stop them from opening."

Cr Lew Findlay said councils were hog-tied by government regulations and Palmerston North had to take a lead in advocating changes.

"This [legal highs] has dramatically changed the drug scene in Palmerston North. The side-effects are unbelievable and violence is quite common.

"We will have a major problem. We will lose a generation."

Cr Billy Meehan drew applause from the public gallery as he urged the council to form a collective with other councils, supported by the petitioners, to lobby the Government for change.

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- Manawatu Standard

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