'It f...s you up really': Inside Ham East's drugs shop

RECREATION: Men and women gather at Hamilton East’s Steele Park to smoke and drink alcohol.
RECREATION: Men and women gather at Hamilton East’s Steele Park to smoke and drink alcohol.

Outside a former Work and Income office a man in a hoodie cradles a crudely made bong consisting of a Coke bottle with a piece of hose rammed into it. "Got a lighter," he asks.

He pats his pockets down, searching.

It is 9am on another Wednesday when he finds it. The lighter comes out.

He cranks the spark wheel and holds the flame to a cone packed full of a psychoactive drug that is for sale from the dealer, U njoY, next door.

The acrid smoke coils into the chamber. The man inhales deeply and blows the smoke across the public footpath, and his buzz begins.

This is Grey St, Hamilton East, on the eve of Christmas 2013.

The sheer number of users coming and going from the shop is a result of the law that took synthetic cannabis out of dairies and put them into licensed premises where anyone over 18 years old can buy as much dope as they want.

U njoY's interior resembles a white-washed prison cell.

The drugs are displayed behind security glass that falls to an inch above the counter.

The barrier is there, presumably, to keep the products, cash and staff safe if someone walks in with a weapon.

The door opens at 7am on weekdays and there is a sign in the window telling people not to mill about waiting on the pavement outside.

Once trade begins, there's a steady flow of business - $10, $20, $100.

Homeless man Steven Henry has hundreds of dollars worth of "Karma" in his pockets.

He is easy to pick out among the people that now hang around Steele Park because he wears a white dress shirt, a tie, suit pants and shoes.

At 8.45am, he is standing still as a statue on the footpath in a stupor.

Once roused, he says he is 47 and on a benefit. He says he started smoking marijuana aged 8 and has been inhaling legal highs for four years now.

"When this first came out it stopped me smoking the weed," he says in a soft, slow drawl.

"It f...s you up really.

"For me it does. It makes me all giddy.

"The other stuff doesn't make me go like I am now. Sometimes I black out and my mates rob me."

Maui Henare* walks into U njoY at the same time dressed in a black singlet with tell-tale yellow, green and red trim.

The 33-year-old says his father smoked marijuana and he has followed suit since he was 12.

He says people in cities have trouble getting their hands on pot because they don't know anyone and nine times out of 10 the gangs run the drug trade.

"So if you're not connected to that gang, you're not going to get no marijuana," he says.

"Even if you try and score randomly on the street, people won't get it for you . . . but with shops like these it makes it easier for people to buy."

Henare smokes legals when his weed runs out, he says. "When you talk about smoking I'm not no jointer or spotter, I'm a bonger - I only hit from the bong.

"It gives me a better hit, a longer hit . . . I'm a motivational smoker - I smoke and go and do a lot of work and tend to my children."

Alcohol and tobacco are bigger problems for society than synthetic cannabis, he says.

Yet Henare admits it can be hazardous to people's health.

"Legalise cannabis in New Zealand so we don't have to have shops like these with chemicals in them that can hurt people."

The Waikato Times was unable to contact U njoY R18+ owner Kinnari Mihir Patel.

The legal high store is located at 371 Grey St and property title records show it is owned by two people.

One of the owners did not want to be named because his family were threatened when identified in a previous story.

But he told the Times he was only the joint landlord and derived no profit from the sale of legal highs.

He said his tenant, Mr Patel, was running a lawful business which had been subject to numerous random inspections by police.

The joint owner was aware of some public opposition to the Grey St puff shop when it first opened but thought matters had "quietened down".

Asked if he had a responsibility to ensure the businesses operating from his premises were not negatively affecting the community, he would only say Mr Patel was running a "lawful and ethical business".

The joint owner was unaware of growing anti-social behaviour in Hamilton East and was not convinced such behaviour could be attributed to the Mr Patel's shop.

There would have to be "very strong evidence" before he was satisfied the surge in anti-social behaviour was linked to Mr Patel's business.

Asked if there were any circumstances in which he would cancel the tenancy agreement, he declined to comment.

He said he would make his own inquiries before reaching any conclusion.

Waikato Hospital emergency department clinical director John Bonning has criticised sythetic drugs in the past for clogging up his department.

At the worst end of the scale medical staff reported people having seizures and being in highly agitated, violent states.

Other effects included persistent vomiting, visual and auditory hallucinations, and severe paranoia.

Mother of two Cassie Latemore, 27, would agree.

She was walking past U njoY with Krystal Weaver, 24, at 8.55am.

Ms Latemore said a friend of hers smoked Karma last Tuesday and had "a full seizure" that lasted about four minutes. She was shaking and stiff.

Her lips turned blue. "It was the scariest moment of my life so I am dead against it," Ms Latemore says.

An ambulance was called and the friend was hospitalised for a few hours.

"She swears black and blue she's not going to touch it again. It was a wake-up call for everybody."

Another friend smoked legals and went from being "normal talkative" to not being able to put a sentence together.

"It ruins you. It's not worth it."

Ms Weaver says "they" keep going on about how bad marijuana is.

"That s... is worse. I know somebody who ended up smoking the AK-47 [brand] and the person ended up on their back on the bed shaking like a leaf.

"He couldn't call out for help or anything. Kids sit outside the shop to ask people to go into the shop and buy it for them.

"They don't realise the damage it can do."

Wendy Delich, 63, also wanders by U njoY. She feels strongly about the issue and says the law change banning legals from dairies simply concentrated users into small areas.

"It is sad when you see people driving with kids in the car and they're going in and out of the shop. Then we have to think of the big picture - they're going home and smoking. It's a worry.

"I'd like the council to do whatever they can within the law."

Ideally, she would want U njoY and its ilk gone, but she would accept the number of licensed premises going down to two or three in central Hamilton.

* Editor's note: Maui Henare does not work for the Waikato District Health Board, including Waikato Hospital.

- The Psychoactive Substances Act came into force on July 18 and regulates the importation, manufacture and supply of psychoactive substances - the active ingredient in legal highs.

- The Act permits councils to develop their own policies restricting where legal highs can be sold.

- The new law only allows the sale of psychoactive products which pose "no more than a low risk of harm" to people.

- It will be up to manufacturers to demonstrate their products present a low risk of harm to users.

- An interim regime is in place while the regulations that will detail how the system work is developed.

Testing of psychoactive substances is currently away with results expected within the next 18 months.

- Currently there are 28 brands of drugs on the market - many of these could disappear from shelves if they are found not to meet proposed standards.

Waikato Times