OPINION: Health experts who are urging curbs on the use of sugar should look at what happened when central government tried to control products deemed capable of giving users a "legal high". Local authorities around the country have been left spending time and ratepayer money in sometimes-rancorous public consultations.
The legislators who voted to enact the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 in inglorious haste last year - including every MP in the Waikato - are responsible for what is happening. The law requires manufacturers and distributors of party pills and legal highs to prove they are safe before they can go on sale. It also hobbles local authorities when citizens demand they do something about the offensive behaviour linked to sales of these products.
A Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority has been established within the Ministry of Health to consider applications and decide whether to grant or refuse licences to sell psychoactive substances. Local councils can develop policies to control the location of premises and their proximity to sensitive community facilities. But councils can't grant licences or enforce licence conditions. The Waikato District Council has proposed a policy after consulting with police, council regulatory staff and the medical officer of health. The law obliges it to follow a special consultative procedure to develop and adopt its plan, which restricts premises selling approved products to the central business districts of Ngaruawahia, Huntly, Raglan, Te Kauwhata and Tuakau. Hearings will begin soon.
Hearings on the Hamilton City Council's draft policy are under way. A measure of the workload and costs heaped on it is that 525 submissions were received and 73 people asked to speak in support of their written submissions. But deciding on an acceptable policy will be challenging because of sharp differences among interested people about where sellers should be confined - Te Rapa, the central city or both. A troubling aspect is the evidence already given of concentrations of anti-social behaviour around synthetic high outlets since the legislation's enactment. Speaking on behalf of Anglican Action, Karen Morrison-Hume urged city leaders to be "bold and brave" and simply tell the Government they don't want this stuff sold in the city. It's good advice.