Britain 'impressed' with NZ's legal high laws
New Zealand's regime for approving so-called "legal highs" could become a template for British regulations, with a government committee there recommending key parts of new legislation be adopted.
A report by Britain's All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform has recommended Westminster should adopt "the key features of the New Zealand policy" - that the onus of proving legal highs have a "low risk of harm" should be put on the manufacturers.
Last year Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne announced plans to force manufacturers of legal highs to undergo a lengthy and potentially expensive testing process before the products could be sold in New Zealand.
While the details of the testing are to be finalised, the Government has signalled a hefty application fee and an extensive testing regime, akin to that required for approving new pharmaceuticals.
Breaches of the rules, due to come into force in August, could see manufacturers jailed for up to eight years.
The British drug reform committee, chaired by Baroness Meacher, is "impressed" by New Zealand's approach.
"They have examined the best available knowledge about the harms of particular psychoactive substances," the British committee's report said.
"They encourage suppliers to focus on product safety, and restriction of supply to protect vulnerable consumers, particularly young people."
Dunne said today he was not surprised by the report's findings with one of the committee members "making positive noises" about the approach during a visit late last year.
Other countries were also watching the new regime with interest.
"We're getting a lot of enquiries from Britain, various states in Australia, jurisdictions in the United States, about the regime," Dunne said.
"They all see it as being quite innovative, and a world first really, in terms of how to address the issue."
The existing legislation allows substances to be banned for 12 months, but manufacturers have managed to reformulate their products to circumvent the rules.
"You can keep banning this stuff, but the 12-month ban only gives you breathing space - it's not a solution long term," Dunne said.
"You have to have a mechanism beyond that."
It appears, however, that Britain's willingness to follow New Zealand's approach on drug laws will not be reciprocal.
Another part of the British report on drug reform recommends that some "low harm" drugs, specifically cannabis and ecstasy, be licensed for sale in pharmacies in an attempt to lure young people away from alcohol and more dangerous legal highs.
"That's not on the government's agenda here," Dunne said today.
The Government would consider a report from the Law Commission on the Misuse of Drugs Act, which made recommendations about the application of penalties, with the existing rules designed in the 1970s.
"But frankly I wouldn't see the Government moving too far, if at all, from its current position regarding the legality of those drugs," Dunne said.