NCC seeks guidance on legal high sales

The Nelson City Council is putting its plans to create a policy for the sale of legal highs on hold, until it has more information from the Government.

The announcement came a day after the Ministry of Health revoked interim approval for five legal highs.

Retailers were told to pull five products from their shelves on Monday after the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority banned them under the Psychoactive Substances Act.

There was interim approval for the products under the act, but this was revoked due to an increase in calls to the National Poisons Centre about adverse health effects.

The brands were AK47, Anarchy, Karma, Northern Lights Primo and Voodoo.

The council's planning and regulatory committee chairman, Brian McGurk, said the decision to put its plans for the policy on hold was unrelated to the latest legal high ban.

Until new national regulations were in place, no further licences to make, import or sell legal highs will be granted through the council.

Consultation on a draft policy for Nelson closed in December and attracted 10 submissions, four of which will still be heard next month, but there will be a delay in finalising and adopting the policy.

Draft regulations are expected from the Ministry of Health before the hearing.

"These regulations will impact on how licences to import, make and sell these substances are granted, and what weight is given to local policies, so it makes sense to wait until those decisions are made before formulating our local policy," Mr McGurk said.

"The sale of legal highs is obviously an issue attracting a lot of discussion in our community, and it's appropriate council gets it right."

The policy would work in tandem with the Psychoactive Substances Act, passed last year, which established a new licensing system for psychoactive product manufacturers and retailers.

The Nelson City Council Draft Local Approved Products Policy proposed that premises licensed to sell approved legal highs must be located within the Nelson Inner City Zone, and not be within 100 metres of a kindergarten, early childhood centre, school, library, community centre, reserve, playground or place of worship.

It also proposed that new licensed premises should not be within 100 metres of an existing business holding a licence (interim or full).

Of the submissions the council received, health and community workers called for an outright ban on sales of legal highs in Nelson. Groups advocating for this included the Nelson Community and Whanau Network, Community Workers and Training and Support, the Victory Community Centre and the Nelson Youth Council.

However, the co-owner of Be Adult Boutique, Katherine Ann Hemi, whose business currently sells legal highs under an interim licence, said banning them would have negative repercussions.

Mrs Hemi told the Nelson Mail she thought legal highs should only be sold in R18 stores, as this would allow better regulation of who they were sold to.

She said she took the responsibilities involved with selling legal highs seriously.

Mrs Hemi said a sign in the shop listed the legal highs that had been banned this week, although there were other varieties available that had interim approval.

"I've always been socially aware. If they are [all] banned, it will be worse. They will be for sale on the internet, where it won't be regulated," she said.

"I have had parents come in and tell me their child had an issue, so not to sell it to them. We listen to them, and won't sell it to them."

She said she had found that people "from all walks of life" bought legal highs "to have a smoke after a hard day's work".

In its submission, the company called for the council to extend the location limitation to the Western City Centre Expansion Area. It also wanted the 100-metre separation to be reduced to 50m.

Ms Hemi said she would be speaking at the hearing.

Gizmos owner Tim Kelly had an interim licence to manufacture and sell AK47, and removed the product from his stores in Nelson and Richmond this week.

He said the stores had always been responsible about who they sold legal highs to. Over the business's 12 years, this had always been over-18-year-olds.

Mr Kelly said he did not want to manufacture any more legal highs.

He agreed with the council's original plans to restrict sales to within the CBD.

"It's good that they are keeping it in the CBD, not out by houses. That makes sense."

Mr Kelly said he had found that the vast majority of people buying the substances from both his stores were over 30, and bought them to stay on the right side of the law.

"It's convenience, and you can't get in trouble with the police."