Puff shop ruling a triumph

Last updated 05:00 13/03/2014

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OPINION: The Hamilton City Council acted boldly and the Ministry of Health acted quickly. This newspaper and all others who have campaigned for months against the sale of ill-named "legal highs" in so-called "puff shops" are delighted and can only hope a temporary triumph soon becomes a permanent one.

Responding to public pressure to keep the city clean of puffery under whatever guise its peddlers can legally concoct, the city council last month adopted a psychoactive substances policy in line with the wishes of most citizens. So far, so good. But thanks to some lamentable lawmaking, the council is constrained in doing what is best for the city. The Psychoactive Substances Bill was given overwhelming cross-party support from 119 MPs last year. It restricts dairies, grocery stores, petrol stations and alcohol retailers from selling synthetic cannabis. It also allows vendors with special licences to sell products that have been tested and do minimal harm.

The Ministry of Health is in charge of licensing. Local councils can only determine where vendors with licenses can operate and can't enforce licence conditions. The Hamilton City Council - after considering 528 submissions, including six petitions with over 7000 signatures - had to formulate a policy. Once the policy was adopted, it had to be presented to the ministry for approval.

This explains why a frustrated Mayor Julie Hardaker said Hamilton is a city for families and it's not OK to have people smoking a drug on the street in full view of children, but the council had been "virtually powerless" to deal with issues (such as intimidation and anti-social behaviour) caused by legal highs. Thankfully, ministry regulators appreciated what the city and its leaders want done and on Tuesday suspended six licences. The stores have been banned from selling the products for 21 days.

That's not enough, but it gives some breathing space (without any whiff from legal highs) while ministry officials look into the merits of the council's policy and decide either to lift the suspensions or cancel the licences. Hamilton electorate MPs David Bennett and Tim Macindoe, who lobbied the ministry for prompt action, have welcomed the decision. Their lobbying is welcomed. But they might reflect on why they voted to give so little power to the council and so much to a government department.

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- Waikato Times

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