Tough stance on legal highs urged

JANINE RANKIN
Last updated 12:00 01/04/2014

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Palmerston North police crime prevention manager Brett Calkin wants the city council to restrict the sale of legal highs as tightly as it can, and defend its position in court if it has to.

"We are keen to see the council tackle this head on and take a stance," he told a community development committee meeting yesterday hearing submissions on the draft Local Approved Products Policy.

"Put your money where your mouth is, going to the High Court if necessary to stand your ground."

Calkin spoke on behalf of the police, the Palmerston North Psychoactive Substances Task Force and the Safety Advisory Board.

He referred to the Hamilton City Council as a role model for making rules so tight it was difficult for retailers to find a location in which they were allowed to operate.

The Star Trust, representing the majority of the country's remaining 168 "social tonic" sellers, is seeking a judicial review of the Hamilton policy.

Calkin said police supported a local policy that was as restrictive as possible.

"I understand there is a fine line. A restrictive policy would mean you were open to a challenge, and that will cost money."

But he believed it would be a wise use of ratepayers' money.

The use of legal highs was a significant driver of crime in Palmerston North, he said.

A recent survey of prisoners in custody at the police station showed 23.3 per cent were frequent users.

Nearly three-quarters of those users were aged 14 to 25 years, more than half identified as Maori, and almost three in 10 believed the use of legal highs could have contributed to their arrest.

He said the increased number of calls that police responded to that involved suicides, attempted suicides and mental health crises connected to substance use was diverting resources from other police work.

Palmerston North Youth Council showed more than half the 12- to 24-year-olds who took part in its survey had either used legal highs, or knew someone who did.

Presenter Madi Hamlin said 40

per cent of 12- to-17-year-olds said it was easy or very easy to get hold of the products.

MidCentral Health's Public Health Services was among the submitters who advised the council not to adopt a policy so restrictive as to be unworkable.

Public Health director Rob Weir said it was best to keep sales visible.

Palmerston North mother Esther McLean, who did much to trigger the legal highs debate in Palmerston North, urged the council: "Be as restrictive as you can, and don't back down." The case for a controlled but permissive policy was put on behalf of Nigor Trading by lawyer Andru Isac, and by Shane Simpson representing three outlets.

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Isac said the retailers supported "sensible restriction", but imposing blanket exemptions covering whole streets was more than the council was lawfully empowered to do.

The committee will deliberate on April 14 and make a recommendation for the full council to consider on April 28.

Editorial, P12

- Manawatu Standard

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