Hamilton sticks boot into legal drug shops

MATT BOWEN AND ELTON SMALLMAN
Last updated 08:40 30/01/2014
legal highs hamilton
Mike Scott/Fairfax NZ

FED UP: Grey Street Kitchen head chef Sara Wright and petition signatures opposing controversial puff shop U njoY which is a few doors down.

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Under pressure from residents and business owners, Hamilton City Council has moved sooner than expected to deal with retailers of legal highs- but Te Rapa businesses are likely to reject any plan to move the problem shops into their patch.

The council has fast-tracked hearing and deliberation dates on its draft psychoactive substances policy due to the increasing negative effects that both the central business district and Grey St are facing.

The draft has two options on the table, the first restricting sales to the central city and the second including the central city and a section of Te Rapa Rd.

Councillor Angela O'Leary said if option one was adopted today then the number of dealers in the city overall would plummet from nine to one in the central city. However, there would also be room for another two new licences.

She said the council had responded to people and had brought forward the hearings and deliberations by one month. The policy was due to be adopted at the end of March but that has been brought forward to February 27.

The move comes after a series of incidents involving violent and intimidating situations outside legal high dealer U njoY, Grey St, including an alleged attack on a police officer.

Ms O'Leary, who pushed for the fast-track with Mayor Julie Hardaker, said the council needed to act decisively.

"The very clear message we're getting from the community is that no-one wants these but of course the law is telling us we have to put them somewhere," she said.

"And the terrible things happening in Hamilton East directly related to the store mean we have to act as fast as we can. Council is often criticised for our processes and they often do take a long time, so this is about taking leadership on an important issue, listening to the community and responding."

Hamilton Central Business Association general manager Sandy Turner was happy the council was moving quickly on the proposal but was not in favour of either option put forward. "We don't want it in the central business district at all. We believe we have got enough issues we have been dealing with in the past 18 months because of the law change."

Her association has directed its 1200 members to give council an alternative model which would force legal high sellers into their own shopping district in Te Rapa. "Our preferred option would be a set boundary within the industrial precinct in Te Rapa and we've been quite vocal on that," she said.

"Plan B, if council didn't agree to that, would be setting up a specific side street within the central business district in one of our, perhaps, more industrial type locations." Ms Turner said the psychoactive substances law was more lenient than liquor licensing and said the central government had a lot to answer for.

"There is more compliance around running an off-licence than there is to operate a psychoactive substances store," she said. "Off-licence store, you have to have a certified trained manager on duty at all times.

"In two of the psychoactive substances stores the owners don't even speak English, so how on earth can they be capable of identifying whether somebody is intoxicated or under the influence of any other drugs?"

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Te Rapa business owners the Waikato Times spoke to, including Factory Carpets owner Marie Speirs, did not want legal high shops forced into their patch. Stihl Shop owner Pete Banks was "totally against" legal highs and asked why his end of town should be subjected to them and not the central city.

"Why is there a difference between Te Rapa and the CBD," he said.

"We've got enough problems in the world than worrying about that sort of stuff. She's totally wrong."

Sports Safari owner Matt Roiall said a legal high shop would attract the wrong element and he was against any proposal to concentrate them in the industrial hub. "If you put them all together, they are going to have to have pretty good security too," he said.

"I wouldn't be for it, especially in Te Rapa. I wouldn't be for it, full stop."

Total Automotive Services owner Trevor Sutherland said legal high dealers would struggle to find a premises of an appropriate size and would look for alternative ways to do business.

"I'm just wondering where they are going to shift them to because there are not many places along here that have got places for small shops because they are all big factories," Mr Sutherland said.

"They would probably be up at the mall or where there are a lot of people."

Public feedback on the draft policy closes on Monday, February 17.

- Waikato Times

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