Police back keeping legal highs in inner city

Hamilton police are backing a move to restrict legal high sellers to the central city but warn it won't stop anti-social problems plaguing the city.

Hamilton city licensing Sergeant Jim Kernohan spoke at the Hamilton City Council's hearing on its draft psychoactive substances policy yesterday and gave the strongest signal yet of police opposition to restricting synthetic high retailers to Te Rapa.

The council's draft policy identifies Te Rapa and the central city as the options for where synthetic high dealers may be located. Mr Kernohan said if legal high retailers were shifted to Te Rapa, it risked replicating problems visible in Hamilton East.

"If you limit it [synthetic high retailers] to Te Rapa they [users] will go out there by whatever means and ways possible," Mr Kernohan said.

"They will go out there and you'll have the situation that Hamilton East has had . . . you're potentially encouraging criminal activity to go into an area that's not well monitored and those people will target whatever is handy, they will reach for anything."

The police stance pits them against the Hamilton Central Business Association which has urged the council to shift legal high retailers away from the inner city.

But despite police asking for legal high sellers to be restricted to the central city, Mr Kernohan said the council's psychoactive substances policy would not eliminate anti-social behaviour in the inner city.

"There's been a lot of talk about the behaviour of individuals that are associated with the consumption of psychoactive substances.

"Those individuals, a small group of about 30, are also involved in the misuse and abuse of alcohol, solvents, illegal drugs and possibly subscription drugs.

"This policy will not stop that behaviour," Mr Kernohan said.

Under the psychoactive substances act, the council can put a policy in place limiting locations where legal highs can be sold.

But the council cannot ban the sale of legal highs outright.

Speaking at the hearing, Victoria St shop assistant Kelly Klink said city workers were subject to daily abuse and death threats from drug users congregating around the city's centre.

Ms Klink said her shoe store, located near two synthetic high sellers, was regularly urinated on and spat on by drug users.

"I'm on minimum wage and I have to put up with this," a tearful Ms Klink said.

"I invite you all to spend a day at my work and see what I put up with on a daily basis on the minimum wage. I have to suffer daily because you guys, the government, wants this crap in our city, destroying more people."

Ms Klink said not enough resources were being channelled into helping turn drug users into productive members of the community.

New World Te Rapa supermarket owner Chris Grace said the council was obliged to manage the harm associated with the sale of legal highs but restricting synthetic high retailers to Te Rapa was not the solution.

Te Rapa had zero surveillance coverage, no liquor ban and a history of poor behaviour associated with gatherings of boy racers.

Mr Grace said Te Rapa was "not just an industrial zone" but an area where people lived and worked.

Hamilton East worker Ren Hammington said it was unfortunate the council's draft policy options on where to locate legal high sellers had divided the city and pitted residents and businesses against each other.

Mr Hammington said the opening of a Grey St puff shop had a profound impact on Hamilton East and put vulnerable residents at huge risk.

The council hearing is expected to finish today or tomorrow. aaron.leaman@waikatotimes.co.nz

Waikato Times