Legal high sales suspended for 21 days

LIBBY WILSON AND JAMIE SMALL
Last updated 09:12 13/03/2014
 U njoY, legal highs
Bruce Mercer/Fairfax NZ

STILL TRADING: U njoY on Grey St has been banned from selling legal highs for 21 days, but is still open for business.

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Hamilton East's Grey St puff shop may not be selling legal highs today but it is still open for business, selling other goods, including cigarettes.

The U njoY puff shop was one of six legal high sellers that had their licences suspended for 21 days by the Ministry of Health this week, following the adoption of Hamilton City Council's psychoactive substances policy on February 27.

The stores have been banned from selling the products for 21 days while the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority assesses each retailer against the provisions of the council policy and the Psychoactive Substances Act.

Yesterday police visited each of the puff stores to ensure they were complying with the suspension and keep tabs on any disgruntled customers.

Hamilton city area commander Inspector Greg Nicholls said there were no breaches of the suspensions detected during the visits, and the retailers were in the process of removing the products from shelves.

While the retailers have had their licenses suspended for 21 days, further regulatory action, which could include lifting the suspensions or cancelling licences, is expected from the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority.

But local business owners are tired of the ordeal and want Hamilton East to go back to the way it was before the puff shop moved in.

"Business has gone down, there's no doubt about it," said Bags Factory Shop owner Evelyn Booth. "We've had people scared to come into Hamilton East."

She said publicity around the puff shop has made people think they're "going to get mugged".

"It's safe to come . . . they shouldn't have been driven away in the first place."

Booth moved her business to Grey St from Frankton because she liked the "village" vibe.

"It's great, it's friendly. People like coming to Hamilton East because it's got that community feel."

She said a lot of elderly people chose to shop in the area, but some did not like being hassled for money by the "riff-raff" that accumulated around the puff shop.

A Grey St retailer, who did not want her business identified, said she is glad U njoY's licence had been temporarily suspended, but was yet to see a change on the street.

"You can just see by going out into the street today those people are still around," she said.

"We're just waiting for our clientele and our customers to come back and shop in the village."

She said shoppers were afraid to come and use the area's banking facilities.

A volunteer at the Red Cross shop, who also did not want to be named, said she had never felt threatened, but sometimes got a "sense of unease" around legal high users.

"They're passed out in Steele Park and waiting around for [U njoY] to open."

She would be glad to see the end of the shop, which is almost directly opposite the Red Cross store.

"It comes down to this: someone's making a s*** load of money at the expense of someone else."

She said the legal high industry preyed on vulnerable members of society.

"I think WINZ would like to know where all that money's going."

The volunteer said a number of regular visitors to the puff shop left their children in cars while purchasing drugs.

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"They're in such an altered state. You can tell by the the way they park their car."

She hoped the 21 days with no legal highs would be extended to a permanent ban.

"It has certainly impacted us. Hamilton East has always had a lovely village feel to it."

SUSPENDED AS LICENSES ASSESSED

Six Hamilton puff shops have been forced to stop selling legal highs while the future of their licences is determined.

The 21-day suspensions were handed out by the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority - a panel of clinical and scientific experts which sits within the Ministry of Health.

The authority, which was established by the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 and makes sure products sold in New Zealand meet safety requirements, is responsible for licensing producers, researchers, importers and sellers.

The six suspended puff shops - spread across central Hamilton, Hamilton East and Te Rapa - had to stop selling psychoactive substances immediately after being informed of the decision this week.

The authority will now assess each retailer against the provisions of Hamilton City Council's psychoactive substances policy, and the Psychoactive Substances Act.

Authority manager Dr Donald Hannah would not comment on possible outcomes after the suspension period, but the Ministry of Health website said that further action could include cancelling licences or lifting the suspensions.

Dr Hannah could not confirm when a final decision would be made, but said any retailers found selling the products while their licence was suspended could face prosecution.

Changes to the sale of synthetic highs so far were a first and interim step on the way to full regulations, the Ministry of Health said. Further changes are planned, including restrictions on retail hours, product labelling, and stricter criteria for products to be approved for sale.

The Psychoactive Substances Act came into force in July last year and brought stricter controls around the advertising of synthetic highs, the products available, where they can be sold, and what ages they can be sold to.

LICENCE SUSPENSIONS

Six Hamilton shops affected

Shops must immediately stop selling legal highs

Suspensions issued by Ministry of Health's Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority

Last 21 days Further action will be based on Hamilton City Council's new psychoactive substances policy

Licences could be cancelled or restored

Editorial: Puff shop ruling a triumph 

- Waikato

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