Legal highs policy a tough call

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 12:17 31/03/2014

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OPINION: Palmerston North City Council is stuck between a rock and a hard place, or should that be a high place.

Councillors will sit down today to listen to the community's views on the sale of legal highs. The meeting is set to consider the council's policy on when and where the products can be sold.

That policy is strict, as it leaves only a handful of locations in the central business district where that can happen. But it does not go far enough for a number of those who submitted, and who will speak to the council today.

They want the sale of legal highs banned outright, mirroring the call of the 1600 people who signed a petition to that effect last year. That's not possible, despite it being the preference of Palmerston North Mayor Jono Naylor, under the Psychoactive Substances Act passed last year.

The council wants to pass rules that are heavily restrictive on the sale of these products. But if it passes a policy that is too restrictive the council could open itself up to legal challenges.

The Youth One Stop Shop says the substances should not have "legal" status, and while it supports council proposals for tight restrictions, it is concerned the policy could be unworkable and outside the spirit of the law.

And so the council finds itself walking a tight rope between wanting to meet the wishes of the community and still giving operators a chance to sell their products.

Nigor Trading Ltd, which owns the R18 shop in Cuba St, is telling the council prohibition does not work. It wants similar rules and restrictions to those controlling the sale of alcohol and tobacco. It says all of the city's current retailers operate in areas the council policy plans to exclude, which is probably unlawful.

The last thing the council wants, after its recent $62,000 legal bill for unsuccessfully challenging a new liquor store, is to return to the courts again. Nor does it want to be seen as being soft on legal highs. It's a matter of finding the right balance.

Both of the major television news broadcasts last night released new polls. In each case Labour had dropped to about 31 per cent while National was in the mid-40s.

The gains in the polls Labour made from changing leaders last year are now a distant memory.

Meanwhile Winston Peters is shaping up again as kingmaker in what is increasingly looking likely to be an intriguing election year.

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- Manawatu Standard

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