Greens to abstain on legal high bill


The Greens will abstain from voting on a law to remove untested legal highs from shelves, to be passed under urgency in Parliament today.

Under the new law, 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.

It comes after an outcry about the side-effects of the drugs and after intense pressure from councils to ban them.

Greens co-leader Russel Norman said this afternoon that while the party supported a ban on animal testing, it could not support a law change he dubbed reactionary.

"We're very pleased that we forced the Government to change its position on animal testing, but legislating for a black market in those kind of drugs seems to us a particularly poor policy decision," he said.

The initial legislation was an evidence-based, rational approach, but the "knee-jerk response" from the Government to ban the drugs was not.

Drugs that were found to be causing significant harm could be removed under the current legislation, he said.

"I don't like abstaining much ... but in this instance we were very pleased with the animal-testing change," he said.

"It's something we pushed for when the legislation first went through ... but we don't support this kind of knee-jerk response to dealing with drug policy."

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

He said yesterday that 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.

If a product needed to be tested on an animal, it would not be able to be manufactured in New Zealand, he said.

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

"If they can get through as low-risk ... I don't see them as drugs," he said.

If none of the legal highs re-emerged, "that's no bad thing".

"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," he said.

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 said.

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

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 animal testing for legal highs when the law was passed last year, said it was "a dopey piece of public policy".

Key last week 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, Key said, 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," he said.

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

Fairfax Media