Future of legal-high licences known today

AARON LEAMAN
Last updated 05:00 01/04/2014

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Hamilton's legal high sellers will learn today if they can start plying their trade in the city again.

The Ministry of Health suspended the licences of six Hamilton legal high sellers last month following the adoption of the city council's psychoactive substances policy.

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

The 21-day suspension ends today but the ministry's Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority was yesterday reluctant to give any indication on whether the temporary ban would continue.

Authority manager Dr Donald Hannah said the authority would contact all six licence holders today regarding the suspension "in line with our legal obligations".

"The [Hamilton City] Council and wider community will be advised as part of this process. An announcement prior to April 1 cannot be made until those directly affected are notified of the authority's decision," Hannah said.

Hamilton West MP Tim Macindoe said the community would have a clearer idea from today on whether the city's temporary puff shop ban would stay in place.

"I'm supremely confident that they [legal high sellers] won't be selling them legally tomorrow [Tuesday] and I wouldn't be saying that to you if I didn't feel pretty confident about it all," Macindoe said.

"We've been working very hard with the council and with the minister's office to make sure we get the outcome that overwhelmingly Hamiltonians want and I'm still confident that's what we are getting."

Anti legal high activist Aaron Woolley said there was growing community concern over what would happen once the 21-day suspension period ended.

One Hamilton retailer had already boasted they would get their licence back this week, he said.

His advocacy group, Stand Up Against Legal Highs Hamilton, planned to hold a rally along Hamilton's Victoria St on Saturday to highlight people's opposition to the sale of legal highs.

"There are a lot of people who are genuinely worried about what will happen when the 21-day ban runs out this week. We'll be keeping an eye on all the stores to see if they start selling legal highs."

Hamilton East MP David Bennett said the 21-day ban period allowed the ministry to review the council's psychoactive substances policy to ensure it was correct.

"I don't think they [legal high sellers] can come back after the 21 days unless a mistake was made in some of the documentation but that's very unlikely," Bennett said.

The Waikato Times understands retailers have made several appeals to the authority's appeals committee regarding the suspension of the six Hamilton licences.

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The Star Trust, an industry body representing the majority of retailers licensed under the Psychoactive Substances Act, has already announced it is seeking a judicial review of the Hamilton City Council's psychoactive substances policy.

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

Licensed legal high sellers cannot move to a new address or apply for a new licence. Applications for full retail licences are expected to be available by the middle of next year.

Hamilton East Community Trust chairperson Lois Livingston said anti-social behaviour in the community disappeared overnight once Grey St puff shop U njoY stopped selling legal highs.

"If their licence was given back, then we would hold the Ministry of Health to account for not acting on our wishes," Livingston said.

- Waikato Times

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