Future legal highs so weak I don't see them as drugs: Key

VERNON SMALL AND STACEY KIRK
Last updated 05:00 06/05/2014

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Legal highs on sale in future will be so weak they will not be considered drugs, Prime Minister John Key says.

He said yesterday he would never back the legalisation of recreational drugs, because there were plenty of other things to keep Kiwis amused.

"I personally will never support the legalisation of drugs in New Zealand as long as I am prime minister in Parliament," he said yesterday.

Under a new law to be passed under urgency in Parliament today, legal highs would have to go through a tight approval process to be sold, but after a U-turn by the Government they could not be tested on animals.

"If a product needs to be tested on an animal and that's the only way for the health department to confirm it's low risk, then you can't manufacture it in New Zealand," he said.

That would mean few would be let through the net, and they would be very low potency, Key said.

"If they can get through as low risk . . . I don't see them as drugs." If none of the legal highs re-emerged "that's no bad thing",, he said. "You have to have that testing regime, because in the end, you can't ban them by name, substance or chemical formula because that can all change.

MPs needed to send a message that people should not be taking such drugs.

"I think New Zealanders have got lots of things to go out there and do and fill their lives."

He accepted there was an inconsistency between that view on drugs and on alcohol.

But he rejected suggestions that it may have been easier to make cannabis legal, rather than allowing synthetic drugs to be sold.

There was enough scientific evidence to support the view that long-term cannabis use caused damage, he said.

ACT MP John Banks, who was the only MP to oppose animals testing for legal highs when the law was passed last year, said it was "a dopey piece of public policy".

Key last week had floated the possibility of allowing testing on rats, but not other animals.

However, the Government abandoned that idea after officials advised the drugs would need to be tested on at least two species - rats and rabbits.

Under the new law all 36 remaining products would come off the shelves in a few weeks.

There was a distinction between recreational drugs and testing on animals for medicinal reasons.

So limited testing on animals for medicines to save lives would continue to be allowed.

"It's one thing to test on an animal if you're developing a life-saving drug for cancer, it's quite a different issue for a recreational drug," Key said.

Labour's animal welfare spokesman Trevor Mallard said the "U-turn" over animal testing was a win for the Opposition.

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- The Dominion Post

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