OPINION: What's the difference between a legal high and a legislative low?
We're asking since the two are looking weirdly compatible just at the moment.
United Future's Peter Dunne talked a big game about how his new law was going to counter the damage done - consult your local A and E department and courts for details - by the legal high industry.
He promised a testing regime so disciplined, demanding, time-consuming and expensive that the industry, with all its dodgy methodologies and carelessness about true consequence, would scarcely be able to satisfy it.
Details about that upcoming testing are still being sorted. But in the meantime our brand new shiny Psychoactive Substances Act is merrily licensing specialty stores and permitting them to sell dozens of these synthetic drugs.
Seven southern businesses have applied for these licences.
The products themselves are being permitted for sale on an interim basis as each of them will need to pass more demanding testing before gaining a permanent licence.
How mad is it that interim approval can be handed down for these brands merely on the requirement that they have been on the market for more than three months without serious ill-effects being reported?
The authorities do not have anything like enough information to know these products are safe.
This flies in the face of what the public was assured was the intent of the new law, that the burden of proof was being shifted emphatically on to the manufacturer. Instead, for now anyway, it has pretty much evaporated entirely.
It's also screamingly inconsistent with the requirements quite rightly placed on the mainstream pharmaceutical industry. How many pharmacy drugs would be permitted to circulate on the basis of nothing obvious happening, by way of public complaints anyway, after a few months?
Associate Health Minister Todd McClay has written to all local government authorities calling on them to put in place local rules "to control further" the sale of legal highs.
Just a few weeks before that he was sounding far more emphatic, explaining how communities would continue to work with the police to put in place local measures "to end legal highs being sold".
Uncompromising rhetoric like that sits uneasily indeed alongside the state issuing of licences at all, let alone ad hoc ones permitting sales under such pitifully wimpy criteria.
For their part, local authorities do have power to restrict where approved products may be sold, and the number of outlets. Surely this is a case for councils to fully embrace that charge that is so often levelled against them, of being business-unfriendly.
Meanwhile, Mr McClay predicts the upcoming regulations will themselves see "significantly fewer retailers and products available in this market".
Some will say we should not necessarily throw up our hands at a tightly regulated legal high industry, if it satisfies high-standard safety criteria applied to other drugs.
But that's a scenario far removed from the climate of bootleg bastardry indulged by these businesses in recent years and being shamefully extended now. Roll on the day that that ends.
Sadly, that end is looking not-so-nigh.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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