Kronic king gets the green light

The "king of Kronic" has been given Government approval to make and sell legal highs, despite facing drug trafficking charges in Australia.

Lightyears Ahead made and distributed the highly popular synthetic cannabis brand Kronic, which has since been banned in New Zealand and Australia. The drug has been blamed for hospitalisations, psychotic episodes and, in one case in Australia, death.

Matthew Wielenga, the sole director and founder of Lightyears Ahead, is now facing drug trafficking charges in Queensland related to his synthetic cannabis business.

There have also been media reports the state government is trying to seize millions of dollars worth of Wielenga's property, which it claims was derived from drug trafficking.

He has previously faced similar charges in Victoria, but was granted diversion.

In New Zealand, the Ministry of Health has granted Lightyears Ahead an interim licence to make and distribute legal highs, under a new Government-sanctioned market.

Although the company's signature brand Kronic has been banned, the company can continue to make and sell legal highs called Giggle and Diablo.

Lightyears Ahead said Wielenga was unavailable, and he did not respond to requests for comment.

But Grant Hall, of legal high industry group Star Trust, said the charges in Australia were politically motivated.

"These charges are only allegations and unproven," he said. "It's a big media beat-up."

Kronic had attracted a disproportionately negative reaction because it was so popular, but it was far safer than other drugs, such as alcohol, he said.

Wielenga had voluntarily withdrawn Kronic and should be able to continue to sell legal highs scientifically proven to be low risk. "He has as much right as anyone."

Donald Hannah, manger of the ministry's Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority, said he was aware of the charges against Wielenga, but would not comment further while they were still before the courts.

Anyone applying for a licence needed to make a declaration that they were a "fit and proper person" and were police vetted, he said. "Any information that is inconsistent with the statutory declarations required of applicants . . . will be assessed and may result in the licence being cancelled."

He said Lightyears Ahead had often changed or removed its products, including Kronic, to comply with law changes.

Parliament passed a law in July banning selling legal high in dairies and supermarkets, but allowing some "low risk" drugs to continue to be sold through speciality licensed shops.

Both Giggle and Diablo were deemed to be low risk, although there were some reports of "minor adverse health effects" after consuming Giggle.

The latest incarnations of Kronic were deemed to be too risky and did not gain a licence.

So far, 48 legal high brands have been given interim approval to be sold, although they will be subjected to more vigorous lab tests before getting a final tick.

Another 11 companies have given interim approval to manufacture legal highs, which can be sold through more than 100 shops.

Sunday Star Times