Retailers want council curbs on legal highs
DANIEL ADAMS AND ELTON SMALLMAN
Hamilton East retailers, frustrated a legal-highs shop has popped up in their neighbourhood, are pinning their hopes on council rules to curb the industry.
Nearby business owners, none of whom would be named, claim the inconspicuous shop, previously a church-run opportunity shop in the heart of Hamilton East's retail strip, attracts young people and drug users.
One retailer said neighbouring businesses were now hoping moves to introduce city council policy dictating where the stores could operate would clear away a business that was "not the look that Hamilton East needs".
She had seen everything from students to "well-dressed women" filing in and out of the shop, and said the city needed rules to keep them away from sensitive areas such as schools and from key precincts like Hamilton East.
The store frontage is painted white with no name or contact details, and unusual operating hours early and late in the day, six days a week.
Hamilton City Council staff are due to report back next month on options to limit the availability and public use of synthetic cannabinoids, either as an expansion to the city's smokefree policy or as a separate bylaw.
Councillor Angela O'Leary has driven efforts to investigate what powers the city has under the Psychoactive Substances Act, which regulates the import, manufacture and supply of party pills, energy pills and synthetic highs. "I'm really keen to get both the police, and the district health board, as the licensing authority, all in the same room to add more weight," she said.
She hoped that, by drawing up an allowed-products policy as provided for by the legislation, it would be possible to ban selling the products from near sensitive areas.
The Waikato Times visited the sparsely stocked store and was shown the interim licence displayed on the front counter next to an R18 sign and store policy that prohibited smoking outside the store.
The storekeepers did not want to be identified but said they ran a legitimate business and police and council staff had been on-site and found no sign of unauthorised activity.
The proprietor said he would not vacate his premises because of pressure from other retailers but, if there was a law change, he would abide by those decisions.
Landlord Harshad Soma has not been approached by neighbouring retailers but said he was aware of the nature of his tenants' business. "We got the impression that he was going to run a very tight ship and take a lot of care in ensuring he met the legal requirements." The Ministry of Health last week confirmed one Hamilton retailer had a licence to sell legal highs and another 16 in the region had applied to do so.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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