Legal high u-turn: better late than never

The Taranaki community, or most of it, will be as delighted as New Plymouth District Council Mayor Andrew Judd with the Government's u-turn on the sale of synthetic cannabis.

From next week, all such synthetic drugs will be removed from shops - it will be illegal to stock or sell the products.

Councils and the public have been clamouring for such a move and the media has published horror stories galore about the side-effects of using the drugs.

However, the de-legalisation of the products that were deemed to be "safe" has its critics, not least being the Drug Foundation chief Ross Bell, who says the ban will have negative consequences.

He says that there will be fire sales, products will make their way to the black market, people will stockpile and there will be those who consume too much.

Thinking citizens will struggle with his reasoning because he is advocating for the lowest common denominator. Just because some people choose to fry their brains in pursuit of a temporary 'high' does not mean we should allow them easy access to their drug of choice. It is as stupid as giving 10-year-olds cigarettes because they ask for them.

Of course there will be a black market; there are always those who seize an opportunity to make money, but they also run the risk of every criminal - the law will punish them.

When the Psychoactive Substances Act promoted by Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne was introduced last July, around 150 highs were taken off the shelf, but about 40 were deemed "safe". Three days ago Dunne was quoted as saying: "I think in retrospect we probably should have taken all off at the time that the legislation was introduced but it was a pragmatic decision based on getting rid of the worst of them."

But rather than accept the responsibility for the synthetic cannabis debacle Dunne proceeded to criticise councils saying they have been too slow in implementing new powers to regulate stores that sell legal highs.

He declared that only after those councils had implemented their local policies could the Government enforce the requirement that manufacturers prove their product is safe before it hits the shelf. That smacked of a typical politician's response: Blame the other guy. Dunne was certainly not advocating a total ban.

So what happened? Cynics would suggest that, just days after Local Government Minister Paula Bennett came to New Plymouth with the message that it was up to local councils to deal with the issue, the National Party finally remembered it was election year. Others could think that with the Labour Party prepared to bring out its own policy today on the sale of these drugs, it was necessary for the Government to get in first. Both ideas have a great deal of merit.

Essentially it was people power that moved the Government. When people started picketing and boycotting dairies that sold this junk, when councils raised their collective voices about the danger synthetic drug use posed to their communities, somebody realised it was time to act.

Gosh, it must be election year.

Taranaki Daily News