Mayors urge public to join legal highs fight

HANNAH MCLEOD
Last updated 05:00 21/03/2014

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Southern mayors fighting to get legal highs banned are calling on Southlanders to make their voices heard.

Last week, Southland District Mayor Gary Tong, Gore District Mayor Tracy Hicks and Invercargill Mayor Tim Shadbolt said they would work together to lobby the Government to ban the drugs.

Mr Tong and Mr Hicks urged Southlanders this week to email their concerns about legal highs to them and they would pass them on to Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne, who said last week that legal highs were here to stay.

Mr Tong said all Southlanders who wanted to get rid of the Psychoactive Substances Act needed to take action.

"Don't just talk about it with your mates and then do nothing. Send me an email and I will collate them and send them to Mr Dunne."

The Southland Times asked Mr Dunne what it would take for the Government to ban legal highs.

"Experience in New Zealand and throughout the world shows attempting to ban psychoactive products is ineffective, puts users at significant risk and . . . worsens problems for their families and communities," Mr Dunne said.

Banning one set of psychoactive products simply increased the rate that new and more dangerous products were developed and put on the illegal market, he said.

But Mr Tong said Mr Dunne was wrong.

"Any psychoactive substance that causes harm to an individual, their family, their school, the community must be banned."

In an emailed response to the Times, Mr Tong said: "Mr Dunne, you and your colleagues have got it wrong and our . . . communities will suffer greatly from the increased use of something that could be stopped."

His Gore counterpart Mr Hicks agreed, saying Mr Dunne's comments were a "cop-out".

"You don't know if it [banning legal highs] will work until you try. As a country we haven't tried yet, and I think we need to."

Mr Tong and Mr Hicks plan to meet next week to discuss the way forward.

On April 5, a protest rally against legal highs will be held in Invercargill to coincide with other rallies across the country.

Diana MacAskill, one of the organisers, said neither central nor local government had done enough to prevent the "soul-destroying" drugs from doing harm. "They said they were going to do a bunch of stuff last year, but it's either not happening or it's not working."

The rally was not just about protesting, but about sharing information, stories, and supporting one another.

For just $6, people could buy 1.5 grams of synthetic cannabis, she said.

"Parents are sending their kids to school with lunch money that they are spending on getting wasted."

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