Buyers score synthetic cannabis online

DONNA LEE BIDDLE
Last updated 05:00 22/06/2014

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People are openly buying and selling synthetic cannabis on internet sites such as Facebook, and dealers say it's as popular as ever despite the Government ban.

The ban, imposed last month following a public backlash, led to some shops which sold the products closing down and police raiding warehouses and confiscating stock.

Drug counsellors warned banning synthetic cannabis would push the problem underground - and it appears there is still huge demand if social media is any indicator.

Sellers are advertising the now illegal products on Facebook buy and sell pages and it's remarkably easy to source - the Sunday Star Times making contact with a seller through a Rotorua page.

The dealer offered an ounce of synthetics for $150, or $50 for a bag. She then offered "crack" (methamphetamine) as an alternative and was after a quick sale.

Inspector Rob Duindam of the National Criminal Investigations Group, confirmed police were aware of synthetic products being illegally sold online. He said police were constantly monitoring sites and complaints from the public.

"With the [Psychoactive Substances Act], it's one of those things that was going to eventuate. People have excess products to get rid of and they can pass through hands in a number of different ways."

He said a man was arrested in Christchurch last week for illegally trading synthetic cannabis online.

On the Waikato Buy and Sell Page and H-town [Hamilton] Dealz page, sellers were last week blatantly advising people to private message them if they wanted synthetic cannabis.

Natural cannabis, or marijuana, is also popular on the pages and buyers have even asked if it can be delivered.

A dealer, who asked not to be named, said she sold two brands - a herbal blend called Tai High Juicy Fruit that contained non-psychoactive ingredients and was legal and a product that was banned three years ago, Amsterdam Cafe.

Sellers were previously able to get around bans by altering packaging and changing brand names.

The seller, based in the Bay of Plenty, said she sold in ounces and her customers usually broke it down into smaller packages to on-sell. She sold up to 20 ounces a day.

Another source said a modified version of synthetic cannabis was sold on the streets and from houses in Napier and Rotorua that he knew of.

"They buy the legal herb with the base ingredient damiana, then they put amphetamine into it. I even heard of people lacing it with acetone."

Synthetic cannabis is illegal to purchase under the Psychoactive Substances Act, and cannot be sold until traders have gone through an approval process, which includes thorough testing to prove there is a low risk of harm.

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All existing "legal" highs were effectively banned under the law change that came into effect on May 8, after public protests. Penalties include a $500 fine for personal use, two years imprisonment for supplying the substance or a $50,000 fine for a company.

Anal Kumar, who owns a legal high store on Auckland's Queen Street, said most of his customers had turned to herbal highs and electronic smokes such as E-shisha.

"We used to sell the highs but now that they're illegal we don't. We have lots of other products for customers."

Katie Bayliss, founder of Facebook page Ban Synthetic Cannabis NZ Wide, lost her son Harley to the drug in March this year.

"I've looked into it a little bit. Why are these things still available? The government needs to step up and get it all banned," she said.

Her Facebook page, which has 35,800 "likes", has become a forum for those suffering the effects of synthetics and their friends and families.

"Even though synthetic [cannabis] has been banned my partner has still been able to get it. There are a couple of places I know where he gets it from," said an anonymous poster. "Now that it's been banned it costs more than when it was legal."

Duindam said police were working with the Psychoactive Substances Authority to regulate illegal trading.

He was particularly concerned about people under 18 and those with mental-health issues, who were most vulnerable.

"We are not dismissive of it [online sales] and we are collaborating with all the necessary authorities."

- Sunday Star Times

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