Retailers fed up with legal high shop traffic

ELTON SMALLMAN AND AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 28/03/2014
Te Awamutu legal highs
Bruce Mercer/Fairfax NZ

AFTERNOON HIGH: Customers gather at Te Awamutu’s only legal high shop, M Centre, as it opens.

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Te Awamutu's only legal high shop - The M Centre - has had an increase in customers since the six Hamilton shops allowed to sell psychoactive substances had their interim licenses suspended earlier this month.

It was bad enough before Hamilton's ban, but the increased clientele from the city and other parts of the Waikato has Waipa residents hot under the collar and they want them to stay away.

A note on The M Centre shop front said it was closed for a lunch break between 2pm and 4pm each day.

By 3pm customers were parked outside in their cars. Two men sat across the road outside a McDonalds and a man and a woman paced up and down the street to pass the time.

When the door of the shop swung open, more than 20 people biked or strolled up to the shop and formed a queue that ran out the door.

The man behind the counter said it was not usually so busy but trade had picked up since Hamilton's legal high policy came into effect.

A few metres down the road at Betta Electrical, owner John Haworth said carloads of people buying legal highs had regularly occupied space in his customer carpark over the past month and it was a disruption his business didn't need.

A truck from a Hamilton scaffolding company and several cars parked on Mr Haworth's private property as the occupants went to the shop to get their fix.

"They do skids in there and throw their rubbish out," Mr Haworth said. "It's customer-parking-only, tow-away area. They don't care, they drive in, park there, might be a carload of them, throw their butts out and do wheelies on the way out. That upsets us."

Schoolchildren walk past the legal high retailer and families frequent the $2 shop next door. Te Awamutu residents are frustrated.

Rosetown Print owner Trudi Morris regularly walks past the shop to do her banking and has seen parents take their children inside to buy their highs.

"It's quite detrimental to society really," she said.

The Jewellery Boutique owner Kathy Weir backed council's call to put pressure on the Ministry of Health to ban psychoactive substances from her town.

"We're a rural town, we're a family town. We don't want those sort of people around and it's no good for them either."

Her shop is about 300 metres from the legal high retailer but she had been threatened by a man who she said was clearly affected by drugs.

"I don't know what he was on but he was on something," she said. "Now, that's not nice and as we get more of them from all over the region . . . I think the council needs to get it out of the town and get rid of it."

Josh Wilmshurst caught a bus from Morrinsville to Te Awamutu and was waiting outside the shop while his girlfriend bought a bag of highs.

He said a ban would just drive the highs underground where they could be bought cheaper than in the shops.

"It's pretty easy," he said. "You just text up the guy." The Ministry of Health website shows an interim licence to sell psychoactive substances was issued to Mahendra Baruchi at The M Centre on Sloane St, Te Awamutu.

Waipa District Council's newly adopted psychoactive substances policy banned the sale of legal highs within 100 metres of a sensitive site and within 500 metres of retail premises.

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Sensitive sites included community libraries and museums, childcare centres and school, marae, churches, courthouses, medical centres, public toilets and sites occupied by social welfare agencies.

The M Centre continued to operate in breach of the policy and council's deputy chief executive David Hall said by law, they couldn't shut them down, and called on the ministry to revoke their licence.

"We've done everything we can to restrict access to the drugs and our policy reflects what the community wants," he said. "Now it's up to the ministry to act."

TEENS BUYING LEGAL HIGHS ONLINE

Sellers of legal highs are allegedly using social media to flout a city-wide ban on the sale of synthetic highs.

Hamilton City Council adopted its psychoactive substances policy last month, triggering a temporary ban on the sale of legal highs in the city.

But sellers have apparently moved online with reports of teenagers as young as 15 getting their hands on legal high products via social media websites.

Aaron Woolley, who heads the advocacy group Stand Up Against Legal Highs Hamilton, said he was contacted by a parent last week to say her teenage son had bought synthetic cannabis from a dealer on Facebook.

"She was obviously upset that her teenage son went online and got hold of this stuff. He organised to meet a guy at Seddon Park and bought the drugs off him," Mr Woolley said.

"Any parent of teenagers who have access to social media should be alarmed at this."

Mr Woolley directed the Waikato Times to two Facebook profiles allegedly set up to sell drugs. One showed people responding to the prompt "anyone looking".

Hamilton city licensing Sergeant Jim Kernohan said police were aware of the sites but had yet to determine if they were illegal.

There were licensed internet sellers under the Psychoactive Substances Act. However, it was illegal to sell products to people under 18 years.

Mr Kernohan said anyone worried that legal highs were being sold to under-age users should contact the Health Ministry or police.

Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority manager Dr Donald Hannah said the authority was not aware of the Facebook sites but urged anyone concerned to contact the psychoactive substances hotline 0800 789 652.

"The community plays a vital role and the authority would like to hear from anyone who knows of party pills or synthetic cannabis being sold from dairies, convenience and grocery stores and other prohibited premises or from any premises or websites to anyone under the age of 18 years," Dr Hannah said.

Under the psychoactive substances act, the police have the power to investigate reports.

Anyone found selling legal highs without a licence could face a fine of up to $40,000 or three months in jail.

Dr Hannah said the authority took swift action on receipt of a reported breach of the act.

"There have been no prosecutions for sale of approved products via social media to date under the new act," he said.

Mr Woolley said his group would hold a rally calling for a ban on the sale of synthetic highs in Hamilton on April 5.

The rally will meet outside Waikato Museum at 12.30pm and march down Victoria St to Garden Place.

"Although there's a temporary ban on synthetic highs in Hamilton at the moment, that ban could end next week and we're worried that stores will start selling them again," he said.

"This stuff is devastating our communities and we want our policy makers to come along to the rally and support our cause." 

- Waikato Times

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