Party pills stay legal, if they can jump hurdles

Last updated 05:00 11/10/2012

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People will be fined $300 for possessing banned party pills, and dairies will be barred from selling them, under new "legal high" laws.

There would also be a minimum purchase age of 18 and prison time for manufacturers who flouted the rules, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne announced yesterday.

"What we are trying to do is actually protect young people, not criminalise them and thereby jeopardise their job and travel prospects."

In other details of the world-first regime, manufacturers will have to pay a $200,000 application fee and testing costs of up to $2 million to have a substance passed as safe for sale by a regulatory watchdog.

Testing would take about two years and include clinical trials on humans, Mr Dunne said.

It meant producers would have to prove the pills were safe before they hit the shelves.

"We will no longer play the cat-and-mouse game of constantly chasing down substances after they are on the market."

He disagreed that it would push party pills on to the black market or have children trying illegal drugs that could become cheaper than legal highs.

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell said the strict controls would go some way towards stopping the "merry-go-round" of highs being banned then replaced with tweaked versions.

"We know that the industry employs very clever chemists who can cook up a new chemical to get around the rules."

Mr Dunne also revealed that advertising would be banned, except at the point of sale, and approved substances would have to include a label listing active ingredients, the National Poisons Centre phone number and contact details for the product's New Zealand manufacturer or supplier.

The regime was expected to come into force by the middle of next year and there would "probably" be a drop in the number of products available.

Since August last year, 28 substances and more than 50 synthetic cannabis products have been taken off the market following the introduction of temporary class drug notices.

Products already on sale for more than six months will not be removed from shelves but will still have to be tested.

Mr Dunne said manufacturers were supportive of the regime as they believed "it will clean their industry up".

Party pill industry expert Matt Bowden said manufacturers would pay to have their products tested as the costs involved were small compared with the industry's annual worth, estimated to be in the "hundreds of millions".

"The only businesses who will survive are those with a very high commitment to social responsibility."

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But he disagreed with the criminal sanctions of up to eight years' jail for importing, manufacturing, supplying or possession with intent to supply analogues which mimic the effect of common street drugs but avoid being classed as illegal.

People who import, manufacture, supply or possess with intent to supply unapproved substances face up to two years in prison.

Greymouth father Kevin Rodden, whose son Ben collapsed after taking a pill called Torque in 2007, said the Government needed a harder approach.

"It's bleeding money out of the young ones, making money out of people when it's going to harm them. I reckon ban them completely."

Ben was in an induced coma for three weeks, with high levels of the stimulant BZP and caffeine in his system. He recovered.

- The Dominion Post

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