Store dumped as Lotto retailer

A Nelson store has lost its contract for Lotto products for continuing to sell legal highs after an industry deadline.

Lotteries Commission spokeswoman Emilia Mazur said yesterday its investigation found that Haven Road Store and Lotto continued to sell legal highs after July 1, the date Lotto operators were told to stop selling the drugs.

Ms Mazur said owner Dharmendra Patel was in clear breach of his agreement with NZ Lotteries.

"We have subsequently terminated the Lotto agreement."

Ms Mazur said the commission would not consider signing a new agreement with the store, and was looking for a new retailer in the Nelson area to fill the gap in the market.

Mr Patel had told the Nelson Mail he stopped selling legal highs in late June. After receiving several calls from the public saying this was not the case, the Mail exposed a staff member selling a $20 bag of Malavi Gold synthetic cannabis to a regular customer on July 11.

Mr Patel's lawyer, Rick Farr, said in a statement yesterday that they were "concerned with the most heavy-handed manner in which the Lotteries Commission has acted".

They were also disappointed with the Mail's use of an "agent provocateur in its attempts to catch this young couple out".

"This person obviously had a ‘gripe' with the store owner and was a regular customer for the products in question. We suspect some racial undertones and are most uncomfortable that your paper has singled this young Indian couple out and pursed them relentlessly," Mr Farr said.

He said it appeared the commission had breached its contract with the store owner and had not followed the processes required under the contract.

"It has had no regard to the rights of the store owner nor the impact its decision will have on this family, despite the commission being made fully aware of these matters.

"The commission is supposed to be a charitable organisation but has been most uncharitable here, and it is simply a case of an organisation with immense resources running roughshod over this young couple's rights who have little resources in comparison, to resist."

Mail editor Paul McIntyre said he stood by the paper's coverage.

"We acted after readers had contacted us following Mr Patel's statement that he had stopped selling legal highs.

"I reject the suggestion there were any racial overtones. The paper would cover such a story involving any other business in a similar fashion if it was brought to our attention.

"We have no wish to see a retailer suffer, but Mr Patel made the decision to continue selling the highs after the Lotteries Commission asked dairies to stop. Not only that, he then denied it."

The Nelson Mail