Fake dope law 'a complete failure'

Last updated 05:00 06/12/2013

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A prominent New Plymouth barrister has slated this country's new synthetic cannabis laws as a failure.

The artificial products, which can still be freely bought, are addictive, cause serious crime and are destroying young people's lives as well as those of their families, criminal lawyer Paul Keegan said.

"There has been a complete failure of central government to regulate the most basic functions to ensure the products sold in New Zealand are not harmful," he said.

His frustration followed the jailing of two young men, aged 17 and 20, in separate arson cases heard in the New Plymouth District Court yesterday. Both had longstanding addictions to artificial cannabis, Mr Keegan said.

"The two sentencings today involved very young men whose lives have been profoundly affected and in no small part this was due to the fact that they have been addicted to the use of synthetic cannabis."

The 20-year-old Taranaki man, who has permanent name suppression, set fire to his family's house in April after his parents remonstrated with him about his addiction.

The fire caused $187,000 damage to their nearly new home.

As a direct result of the artificial cannabis addiction, he developed an extreme drug-induced psychosis and has since been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

His jail sentence is to be served in the Henry Bennett Centre, a forensic hospital in Hamilton and it is not known how long he will spend there.

The 17-year-old, Joseph Ernest Avey, of New Plymouth went out on an all nighter with his mates, torched a car then robbed and assaulted youngsters on their way to school in the morning.

"It is a serious concern that the product is still available and also affordable," Mr Keegan said.

The Psychoactive Substances Act, effective since July, bans the sale of legal highs in dairies and supermarkets but allows some "low risk" drugs to continue to be sold through speciality licensed shops.

The drug was readily available in some New Plymouth shops, he said.

"The changes in legislation seem to have only achieved very little and the formulas are just adjusted and it continues to be sold - but more discreetly ."

While the general public believed the law had dealt with it they needed to be aware that was not the case because it was still be seen in the courts as a significant issue. The harmful effects of the drugs were unpredictable because the changing formulas, he said.

Judge Allan Roberts said the 20-year-old defendant's parents' victim's impact statement showed their son had clearly been unwell at the time of the offence.

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The parents were indeed forgiving and loving, the judge said. Even though they suffered emotional and financial loss they still wanted to support him.

"In the long term everyone wishes you to return to full health."

After deductions from a three-year prison sentence, the defendant was sentenced to 18 months in the secure forensic unit.

Similar support was shown by Avey's father during his son's sentencing in the afternoon before Judge Lynch. Avey admitted charges of arson, car conversion, assault, and theft of two cellphones on June 25 and 26.

Avey was sentenced to six months' jail followed by counselling for drug addiction.

He was ordered to pay $395 for his share of the reparation for the torched car.

Judge Lynch told Avey he had "done bad" but with the support of his family in future he could put it behind him.

- Taranaki Daily News

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