Puff shop policy bigger foe than Smaug

Last updated 05:00 10/03/2014

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Setting up a plan to deal with legal high traders has proved to be a battle too big for the Matamata-Piako District Council to conquer in one day.

The council ran out of time to agree on a Local Approved Products Policy to regulate the sale of legal highs under the Psychoactive Substances Act, when it met in Te Aroha last week.

It spent six hours considering 335 submissions made on the policy, but the hearing was adjourned to March 26.

There were no legal high stores in Matamata-Piako district and no pending applications but under the act, which comes into effect later this month, anyone will be able to apply for a licence to sell the substances. A policy would control the location of legal high stores. Councils cannot prohibit the sale of the substances completely.

In its draft policy, the council proposed to limit retail sale to Thames St, Morrinsville, between Canada St and Studholme St; Whitaker St, Te Aroha, between Boundary St and Lawrence Ave; and Broadway, Matamata, between Tainui St and Hetana St.

Proposed proximity restrictions included 200m between retail premises selling legal highs and 50m from sensitive sites including churches, preschools, schools and community facilities.

At the hearing, council tweaked the distances to 225m and 25m. While the council, police and some submitters preferred Tui St in Matamata for retail sites, no consensus was reached for alternative locations in Morrinsville or Te Aroha.

About 20 submitters made presentations. Most were worried about issues such as anti-social behaviour, effect on other businesses, intimidation of staff and customers, town ambience, and community health and wellbeing.

Sergeant Jim Kernohan, representing the police, supported location in "high visibility" areas. If the council was overly restrictive, he said, the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority could ignore the local policy.

"The police need to be reasonable.

"One [shop] per town is not unreasonable. One in the district maybe deemed unreasonable."

Sergeant Vic Sneddon of Morrinsville said legal highs rated far below issues relating to alcohol in the district.

Matamata submitters were particularly passionate about the effect of puff shops on the tourist trade, especially the internationally recognised Hobbiton movie set and public relations office.

"We could poison the goose that laid the golden egg," said promotions manager Sue Whiting.

Matamata business owner Kate Guilford said allowing legal high shops catered to the minority. "The majority are the real losers. You can't sit outside a shop and have a glass of wine [through a council liquor ban]," she said.

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Fellow Matamata resident Ray Kitchener said puff shops could "scare off locals", particularly older, retired people.

Morrinsville businessman Brett Johnstone recommended the council just say "no" and take the matter to the High Court. Colleague Graeme Brewer also suggested the council lobby against the legislation. "Thames Street is the shop window of the town. This would tarnish the town."

Long-time Te Aroha businessman Dennis Williams said it is a health and safety issue. "This would be a disaster. It would destroy the town."

Steven Whittle, from Te Aroha Baptist Church, said the term "sensitive sites" was an admission legal high outlets will create a problem.

"We are being held to ransom by laws which are an absolute folly."

- Waikato Times

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