'Legal' doesn't mean 'safe' - judge

Man's crimes provoke warning from bench

JONO GALUSZKA
Last updated 07:48 31/01/2014

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A district court judge is continuing his verbal volleys against legal highs, this time saying their name should not dupe users into thinking they are safe to use.

Judge Gerard Lynch has been vocal with his thoughts in the Palmerston North District Court over the past year about legal highs.

On various occasions he has compared their consumption with swallowing chemicals, labelled them a "scourge" and said those who peddled them needed to stop.

He used the sentencing of 25-year-old Michael Adam Graham in the Palmerston North District Court yesterday to again voice his concern.

Graham was being sentenced on three charges of receiving stolen property, after three bikes came into his possession in July and August last year.

They had a combined value of $2050, but he pawned them one at a time at Cash Converters for $260.

In court, defence lawyer Mike Ryan said Graham had a legal highs habit, but had recently cut down from using every day to three days a week.

The highs were smoked as a substitute for Ritalin, he said.

Judge Lynch said people must have been talking to Graham about how dangerous legal highs were.

A university study had shown the drugs could cause psychotic episodes, he said.

"It's crazy stuff, getting into legal highs.

"You should not have much faith in the fact they are called legal.

"The name does not mean they are safe."

He said Graham, whose partner was due to give birth in five weeks, should quit the highs to ensure he was a good father.

Mr Ryan said Graham's case showed how many items someone had to pawn before they attracted the attention of authorities.

Judge Lynch said Graham, who had 11 previous dishonesty convictions, needed to sort himself out to avoid going to prison.

He sentenced Graham to three months' community detention, 125 hours' community work and nine months' supervision.

He also ordered him to pay $260 in reparation.

HIGH TIME FOR DISTRICT TO BE PROACTIVE?

A district councillor has urged her colleagues to take a proactive approach to tackling legal highs after the first application was received to sell the products in Rangitikei.

Soraya Peke-Mason said the community needed to be reassured that the council was on top of the issue. "It wouldn't hurt us to publicly let our community know that this is coming and, no, it's not something that we're comfortable with."

Mayor Andy Watson said there was no need to take such action now.

The council's policy/planning committee would consider at its meeting on February 13 the development of a local policy to control where legal highs could be sold in Rangitikei, he said.

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Chief executive Ross McNeil said the council had plenty of time to put in a policy before a store could set up in the district.

Stores that were operating before the Psychoactive Substances Act was passed last year were able to apply for interim licences to stay open, he said.

Mr McNeil said there had not previously been legal high retailers operating in Rangitikei and any applications to start selling the products were unlikely to be approved before mid-2015.

Mr Watson said that news was reassuring.

Mr McNeil said it was important to note councils could not develop a policy that effectively banned the sale of the products in their district. However, they could place restrictions such as keeping stores a minimum distance from "vulnerable sites" such as early childhood education centres, schools and churches.

Meanwhile, Palmerston North City Council is seeking submissions on its own legal highs policy that restricts the sale to a small number of streets in the central city. Submissions on that policy close next month.

- Manawatu Standard

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