Campaign to kick legal dope out of town

LAIRD HARPER
Last updated 05:00 23/02/2013
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Not in our town: Paula Marriner, left, Salvation Army Major Maureen Ashton and Youth Aid officer constable Pete Wright are taking a stand against synthetic cannabis.

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A group of Stratford residents want synthetic cannabis out of their town.

Stratford Citizens Against Retailing Synthetic Cannabinoids (Scars) is calling for people to boycott any business selling the legal highs.

The group has the backing of Salvation Army Major Maureen Ashton and Stratford police Youth Aid officer Constable Pete Wright, who both want the products banned.

A dairy owner at the centre of the debate, however, is unapologetic about selling the substance.

Peter Chen, who owns the Southern Dairy on Broadway, said it was simple supply and demand and his customers, who are over 18, could legally buy it.

"I employ six or seven local people in this shop. I need to do my job," he said.

"The customers like it and I'm not [doing] it against the law."

Mr Chen said when other synthetic cannabis products were banned by the Government he stopped selling them, and would continue to operate that way.

Scars spokeswoman Paula Marriner said the group wanted Mr Chen to know how dangerous the product was.

She said research by the New Zealand Drug Foundation indicates K2, an R18 product sold for $20 a packet, can make users feel aggressive, paranoid and anxious after the initial "high".

She conceded selling the product was legal but wanted the entire community to kick the potentially dangerous substances out of their town.

"It's not illegal to sell these products but I believe businesses have a responsibility to the community," she said.

Last year, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne announced a raft of changes under new "legal high" laws, which included a costly and lengthy testing process to prove substances were safe, a minimum purchase age and banning dairy sales.

The new regulations will become law by August 2013. Until then, Mr Chen isn't breaking any rules.

Mrs Ashton, who joined the group after seeing the devastation the chemicals were having on her community, said there were too many unknowns surrounding the products and they should be taken off the shelves straight away.

"There are two boys I know who were good kids, who have become rude and obnoxious, and their whole attitude to life, family and their mothers has changed," she said.

She said the public was being misled into thinking some synthetic cannabis was safe because it was legal.

Mr Chen said he was being unfairly singled out as he believed a number of other establishments in Stratford were also selling it.

However, other dairy owners spoken to by the Taranaki Daily News denied selling the products.

Mr Wright said he believed Mr Chen's business was the only one in Stratford offering the mind-altering substances.

"I have been round to all the dairies here and they do not sell it," he said.

"If Mr Chen is aware of any other dairy that is, he can come forward and we will ask them to stop selling it as well."

The group has also set up a petition calling for the Government to urgently legislate against all "so called herbal highs" until all ingredients are proven safe. They have also turned to social media in an effort to get their message across.

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- Taranaki Daily News

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