Come on Peter, let's get it Dunne!

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 27/02/2014
Peter Dunne
QUESTION TIME: Peter Dunne will answer your queries.

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The pressure is now on the Ministry of Health to shut down a troublesome Hamilton East legal high seller - with a decision tipped within weeks.

Hamilton City Council is expected to adopt their psychoactive substances policy today, limiting legal high sellers to the central city.

The policy aims to push synthetic high retailers out of Hamilton neighbourhoods and away from sensitive sites such as schools.

The move will be embraced by Hamilton East residents and businesses traumatised by a surge in antisocial behaviour linked to Grey St puff shop U njoY.

But city bosses yesterday expressed doubt over how quickly the Ministry of Health would act on the council's policy, saying the public might have to "adjust their expectations".

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne told the Waikato Times any decision to revoke the licences of Hamilton legal high sellers would fall to the ministry's Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority.

Mr Dunne, who holds portfolio responsibility for psychoactive substances, anticipated the authority would act on the council's decision within weeks "if not quicker".

"I expect the authority to act expeditiously on council plans but if not then I want a reason for that," he said.

Mr Dunne said he wouldn't speculate on situations where he would become involved in the revoking of a legal high seller's licence.

Ministry of Health senior advisor Fiona Elizabeth Morris said the authority would work with the council to identify any legal high sellers affected by the council's policy.

Where a retailer was not compliant, the authority would suspend their licence "and commence processes that may result in cancellation of the licence."

"Alternatively a retailer may elect to surrender their licence," she said.

Under the council's policy, legal high sellers have to operate at least 100m away from sensitive sites - effectively shutting down existing retailers in the central city temporarily.

Currently, licensed legal high sellers can't move to a new address or apply for a new licence.

Applications for full retail licences are expected to be available mid 2015.

The list of sensitive sites has been expanded to include the Waikato River, the river walkway, pharmacies, medical centres, stand-alone public toilets and "key bus stops".

Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said the community had been let down by the Government's psychoactive substances act and challenged Ministry of Health officials to respond quickly to residents' concerns.

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The consequences of legal high consumption were evident every day in the city, she said, but the council's policy would not fix those issues.

"We've done what we can by developing this policy for where business can sell legal highs but the implementation of that is now out of our hands and is with the Ministry of Health."

Councillor Dave Macpherson said successive governments had a tendency of "chickening out" on issues with social consequences for communities.

"Gambling, alcohol, leaky buildings . . . and now legal highs. They [government] push costs, both social and financial, on to communities. It's time we pointed the arrow back where it should be which is back at them."

Under the psychoactive substances act the council can identify where in the city synthetic highs can be sold but cannot ban their sale outright.

Councillor Angela O'Leary said the psychoactive substances act had forced council to choose "the best of the very worst outcome".

"Hello central government, you've got this wrong. You didn't talk to us; we couldn't talk to our people and we weren't prepared for the consequences of this decision," Ms O'Leary said.

In response, Mr Dunne said it was irritating for councils to suggest the Government had created the legal highs problem when in fact they had successfully rid the community of the most dangerous psychoactive products.

He said councils were noticeably quiet when the legal highs market was unregulated.

Hamilton East worker Ren Hammington, who helped organise a campaign galvanising residents' opposition to the Grey St puff shop, said he wanted the Ministry of Health to act immediately on the council's policy.

"We've done everything we can. We followed the process and it's really in the ministry's hands now. It can't come fast enough as far as we're concerned. We're hoping for weeks, not months."

 

PSYCHOACTIVE SUBSTANCES POLICY

Hamilton City Council expected to adopt its psychoactive substances policy today restricting the sale of legal highs to the central city area.

Policy direct legal highs may not be sold within 100 metres of sensitive sites such as schools and churches.

List of sensitive sites expanded to include the Waikato River, the river walkway, pharmacies, medical centres, "key bus stops" and stand-alone public toilets. Legal high sellers are also not permitted to operate within 500m of each other.

In addition, a city council working group will consider alternative options to address antisocial behaviour in public places such as a bylaw and changes to the district plan.

-Additional reporting Harry Pearl

- © Fairfax NZ News

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