Delight at ban on legal highs

KATE DAVIDSON
Last updated 12:58 28/04/2014
Kaitlyn Blomfield
ALDEN WILLIAMS/FAIRFAX NZ
CONCERNED: Synthetic cannabis addict Kaitlyn Blomfield outside Gizmos this morning.

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Political and business leaders in the region have welcomed the sudden Government move to ban legal highs, but some users say it will force them to turn to illegal drugs.

After widespread concern about the health and social costs of legal highs, the Government has decided to bring in emergency legislation banning synthetic drugs, until they can be proven to be safe.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne made the announcement yesterday, pre-empting Labour's unveiling of a legal high ban policy today.

This morning Labour said its legislation was already drafted and the Government should use it to speed up the ban, rather than wait for the Government legislation on May 8.

Nelson MP Nick Smith said the Government intended to ban and implement the highs on the same day rather than waiting three weeks.

But it brought the announcement forward as people were demanding action and there was political interest as Labour was set to bring out their policy on the substances today.

He said it was "fairer that the Government is upfront about it".

"I have been lobbying and advocating for a complete ban after a significant number of constituents have been to see me with stories of young people becoming quite disturbed and unwell as a consequence of using these psychoactive substances," he said.

Smith urged retailers selling the drugs to do so with caution and responsibility to prevent stockpiling before the ban came into force.

Under the Psychoactive Substances Act introduced in July last year, licensed retailers can sell drugs deemed to pose a low risk of harm while a Ministry of Health testing regime was set up.

"By allowing these substances to have temporary approval, means they have been misread as being safe and that's compounded the problem and I'm looking forward to the implementation of a full ban," said Smith.

Bridge St business owner Glen Beattie, who has asked the Nelson City Council to stop the drugs being sold in the central business district, said he was happy to hear of the ban.

"Anything that can be done to stop the stuff being sold in the CBD is awesome," he said.

One mother whose daughter has been involved with legal highs and who attended the Nelson protest against the drugs said it was about time the Government did something.

"It's simple as to me. It's the best thing they could do to ban it," she said.

She said there should also be support for people who use the drugs to get off them.

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Nelson mayor Rachel Reese said she was pleased the Government was listening to the "strong feedback from the community".

Reese said hearings due to be held by the Nelson City Council tomorrow on the draft local Approved Products Policy, which gives council the power to decide where legal highs could be sold, had been postponed until there was a clearer direction from the Government.

Tasman mayor Richard Kempthorne said he was delighted with the decision.

"This is something our community and all communities in New Zealand had been speaking very strongly about and I think it is a great outcome," he said.

Chairman of the Nelson City Council governance committee Ian Barker, who wrote to the Government asking them to give local authorities the option of banning the substances, said it was the best news he had heard for a long time.

"The community has been telling us strongly and clearly that they are not happy about it," he said. "I think the Government has got itself into a very silly position and they have realised and have corrected it and it's good news."

However, users said the decision would turn them towards illegal drugs.

Kaitlyn Blomfield and her partner were outside Gizmos this morning waiting for the store to open. She said she was addicted to legal highs and it was a poor decision by the Government to stop them being sold.

"I think it's a stupid idea they are taking it off the shelves because it's going to make it worse for people. I'm addicted and I don't know what I am going to do," she said.

Blomfield said the government needed to be doing more to help people with addictions and she and her partner said they may have to start using illegal drugs, which could result in jail time if caught.

The couple said they would not stockpile in the next two weeks as they could not afford to buy in bulk.

Tom Williams who was also outside the store said it was good the Government was taking the substances out of the market.

"It's good, I think it's bad for you," he said, but he suspected people would go to the internet to get their supply instead.

The law will take effect as soon as it's given royal assent by the governor-general, which would happen within a few days of it passing. All 150 retail outlets selling the drugs in New Zealand would then have to remove the products from their shelves.

- Nelson

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