Police thrilled at dairies' legal high response

21:07, May 30 2013
Belt Road Dairy
UP IN THE AIR: New Plymouth's Belt Road Dairy owner Guo Ding Shen is still deciding whether to continue selling herbal highs.

A widespread "dope busting" campaign by police aimed at sweeping legal highs off Taranaki shelves has exceeded all expectations.

In the last week, police have headed into 24 dairies and retail shops throughout North Taranaki believed to be selling brands of synthetic cannabis.

Owners were asked if they knew of the dangers.

They were asked to sign a letter saying they will not sell the drugs prior to the law change which will make them illegal - but is still two months away.

Most retailers agreed to stop. To date, just five have said they will continue.

"When you look at all 24 dairies we visited in the New Plymouth area the response from 19 not to sell is awesome," said officer-in-charge of the campaign, Sergeant Terry Johnson.

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"We are aware it is causing significant community harm among young people," Mr Johnson said.

The excellent reaction proved the owners were community-minded, he said.

"These dairy owners have made a decision about what they believe their community wants. It was a very worthwhile exercise. There was no doubt the owners were aware of the community concerns and damage it may cause," Mr Johnson said.

Police have provided posters for retailers to put in their windows announcing they do not stock the legal highs.

Mr Johnson said the campaign was in reaction to concerns that in some cases the corner dairy near school - the same place which sold lollies to children and milk and bread to families - also had legal highs on sale.

"Once we have identified the places that sell the legal highs, the community might make the decision not to buy their bread and milk there. We'll leave that decision to the people.

"At least we can try to get it out of the places where young kids go to get their lollies," he said.

Waitara's police boss, Senior Sergeant Matt Prendergast, was impressed how many outlets in the town were prepared to make a stand.

"We certainly don't want it in our society. It is pretty well documented the damage it's doing. It's good to see the owners taking a moral stand. They could always turn a blind eye," Mr Prendergast said.

The Psychoactive Substances Bill now before Parliament requires manufacturers to prove their product is safe and pay for the testing.

"We accept the legislative change is going to make a difference but we've got two months to go," Mr Johnson said.

"A lot don't want a bar of selling it," he said.

A big reason why retailers sold the drug was the big profits they were making, he said.

The Taranaki Daily News accompanied police when they went into three of the 20 dairies and other retailers on Tuesday.

Two dairies owners acknowledged they were aware of the dangers but said they will continue selling until the law change. One was vehemently against the product.

NOT FOR MY KIDS - SELLER

A New Plymouth dairy owner says he will not allow his own children to smoke synthetic cannabis but will still sell it to customers until it is illegal.

In a week-long campaign throughout North Taranaki, police have approached owners of dairies and other retailers known to be selling the legal herbal highs.

If they agree not to sell the product they are given a poster for their window to inform the public they are drug-free.

At Belt Road Dairy on Tuesday, in the company of the Taranaki Daily News, Sergeant Terry Johnson told owner Guo Ding Shen police were aware he was selling the synthetic cannabis.

"You know it is causing harm to our community?" Mr Johnson asked the owner.

"Yeah," Mr Shen replied, agreeing he did sell it.

"Are you going to continue to sell it?" Mr Johnson asked him.

"I don't know," Mr Shen said, adding he would talk to his wife about it.

At Ngamotu Dairy, owner Colin Liu told the police he had been selling the product since March 2011 and would continue to sell it until the law change in either July or August.

he said he sold 10 to 20 packets a day. The wholesale price was $10 or $11 plus GST, Mr Liu said.

His main market was 40-to- 60-year-olds "because they have got a job and more money".

The next-largest age group was 20-to-30-year-olds.

"Our biggest issue is the effect it is having on under-18-year-olds," Mr Johnson told him, explaining to him the police campaign asking all retailers if they would agree to no longer sell it.

Mr Liu replied he did not sell to young people. He described how he was aware under-age children stood outside the dairy waiting for others to buy it for them.

He had to deal with the angry mother of a 15-year-old who told her that he bought his from the Ngamotu Dairy.

"Would you let your children smoke it?" Constable Nelson Pulotu asked him.

"No," Mr Liu replied.

It was a totally opposite reaction from Marfell Superette owner Hong Yang who pulled the plug a year ago, after getting feedback from his community it was causing problems.

Despite pressure from wholesalers and unsolicited mail advertising a website where he could order it, he no longer wanted anything to do with it.

His decision not to sell the legal highs was out of respect for the parents in the neighbourhood, in which he and his family lived, saying they didn't want him to do so.

Gary Woodham, owner of New Plymouth's Nauti Nik-Naks, was happy to comply when police asked him to remove synthetic cannabis products from his shelves.

"There's a responsibility as a retailer to adhere to the police requests even when the products are still legal," Mr Woodham said.

"When it comes down to it, if it's not good and is causing social harm then it is not worth it."

Mr Woodham said he understood things were getting out of hand with certain products.

STILL SELLING HIGHS

Outlets that have declined a police invitation to stop selling synthetic highs:

- Belt Road Dairy

- Coronation Dairy

- Fitzroy Dairy

- Iona Dairy

- Ngamotu Road Dairy

- Waitara High St Dairy

- Waitara Keyman Video and Lotto (until stock runs out)

Taranaki Daily News