Ministry blessing for legal high shop
It's faced public protest and sparked a petition to create a local legal highs retailer bylaw, but a controversial Palmerston North legal highs store has been given Ministry of Health approval to keep peddling its wares.
Broadway Ave's The Paradise store, owned by Prabhat "Steve" Kumar, opened to consternation last year, largely because of its proximity to the Palmerston North UCOL at the corner of a thoroughfare commonly used by students.
Mr Kumar was able to sell psychoactive substances while waiting for interim licence approval from the Ministry of Health under the new Psychoactive Substances Act.
After months of waiting, that approval has finally come. If his application had been denied, he would have been compelled to stop trading the products.
Mr Kumar has previously told the Manawatu Standard he has rented a new shop and is happy to move, but cannot transfer his licence to sell legal highs to the new premises.
The licence was attached to the shop location. He did not expect to be able to apply for a full licence for the new store until later this year.
Mr Kumar was not working in the store yesterday and did not return messages.
Following community outcry over legal high retailers in the city, the Palmerston North City Council drafted a local policy that would give the Ministry of Heath guidance on decision-making when it came to issuing "full" licences to sell psychoactive substances.
Mayor Jono Naylor said the ministry's latest decision was "ridiculous" and he was "bitterly disappointed" the wishes of the community didn't appear to be taken into account.
"I have not heard a single person say it's a good idea for them to be that near to the UCOL."
The proposed council policy seeks to restrict sellers to within the inner-city ring road, excluding The Square, Main St, Cuba, George, Church, Rangitikei, King and Queen streets, and Fitzherbert and Broadway avenues. Legal high stores would have to be at least 50 metres from each other, and from places of education, churches, Te Manawa, Just Zilch and other "sensitive sites", such as hostels with more than 15 long-term residents.
Mr Naylor said it reinforced his belief that psychoactive substances should be managed by the Ministry of Justice, which takes care of liquor licensing.
Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway said the approval didn't come as a surprise.
In the absence of council policy to guide the Ministry of Health and lack of resources available to get into that detail, there was no reason to deny Mr Kumar, provided he met the application criteria.