Fears ban will create legal high black market
Do you think the council can enforce a citywide ban on synthetic drugs?
A Hamilton addictions expert has warned politicians that trying to ban synthetic drugs will drive them underground and into the city's poorest communities.
Hamilton City leaders are set to declare war on synthetic drugs after voting to instigate work on a trail-blazing city-wide ban on their sale and supply.
The city council has unanimously voted to start urgent work on a policy that they hope will strangle the market by limiting where the drugs can be sold.
The city should focus on banning their sales near sensitive areas such as schools and parks, director of the Alcohol and Drug Community Support Trust and council candidate Stephen King said.
Trying to ban them outright would create a black market and "criminals looking to make a buck", he said.
"My biggest concern would be that we chase legal highs out of the central city, and into the likes of Nawton and Fairfield, into our poorest communities."
The moves have been led by Councillor Angela O'Leary and follow a Hamilton police bust that saw the seizure of more than 2000 cannabinoid products.
Ms O'Leary asked staff to urgently draft an approved products policy in line with the Psychoactive Substances Act, with the aim of restricting their sale. The council unanimously supported her move despite concern over enforcement.
Ms O'Leary hopes that by banning the sale and supply of legal highs in enough locations, such as near schools and parks, an effective ban can be achieved.
She said the council had to react quickly to the new laws to prevent "puff stores" from popping up. Liquor stores were an example of what would happen.
"It is lucrative enough for one dairy to change overnight their entire business model. Imagine the landscape in three to five years," Ms O'Leary said.
Councillor Martin Gallagher said it was important not to criminalise users.
"The focus should be on those greedy and grotty people who attempt to turn a buck at the expense of our children and grandchildren," Mr Gallagher said.
He advocated a joint approach with the district health board on the issue.
Councillor Dave Macpherson said the law had holes a truck could drive through.
"The legal highs industry has shown itself perfectly capable of exploiting any loopholes," he said.
"It's an evil, insidious industry, and it's got no morals."
However, several councillors questioned how such a policy could be enforced, prompting a request to investigate whether a bylaw would be more effective.
Councillor Margaret Forsyth said a policy lacked teeth. "It's our local kids whose lives are being destroyed, and it's a collaborative approach with the police, the DHB and community members," she said.
Councillor Peter Bos said the issue was another case of central government throwing problems onto councils and expecting ratepayers to pay twice.
"When we see these problems, we tend to pick it up, cuddle the stray cat, and then pay for it. Why are we continuously doing this?" Mr Bos said.
Staff will report back to the council next month on the potential for new restrictions on synthetic drugs, whether through a new policy or bylaw.
However, mayor Julie Hardaker cautioned her colleagues over the likelihood that a city-wide ban can be achieved under the legislation.
"I seriously doubt we can achieve a city-wide ban. Let's not get our hopes up," she said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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