Three southern mayors have written an open letter to the Minister and Associate Minister of Health, Tony Ryall and Peter Dunne. The three mayors – Tim Shadbolt, Gary Tong and Tracy Hicks – are seeking “psychoactive substances (synthetic chemicals) to be banned in New Zealand”.
Do these three mayors not remember what the legal position was prior to the Psychoative Substances Act 2013 being passed? That’s right – synthetic highs were banned. At least, some of the were – the ones that had had their chemical structure analysed and been placed on the list of banned substances.
But here’s the problem. You can’t ban a substance that doesn’t yet exist, which meant that manufacturers of synthetic highs simply had to tweak the chemical structure of their product, so it didn’t match anything already on the banned list, and they were back in business. Customers had no idea what they were buying, as the chemical makeup of the available products was continually evolving to stay one step ahead of the regulators.
Do these southland mayors really believe that the current system is worse than a return to attempts to ban synthetic highs? Let’s look at the stats:
- In the couple of years prior to the Pschoactive Substances Act being passed, nearly 300 different synthetic high products, the vast majority of which were synthetic cannabis of some stripe. Currently, only 42 products have received interim approvals, having been deemed to be low risk under its assessment guidelines. That’s over 250 products that have disappeared from the shelves.
- With the new requirements that stores be licensed and strictly R18, approximately 95% of stores that used to sell synthetic highs have now ceased to do so.
And that’s just the interim process. Once everything fires up properly and a full approval process is underway, each and every one of those currently available products will be banned, pending their passing a rigorous testing procedure, thus satisfying the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority that the product is low risk.
Do the southern mayors really want to go back to the old model? Or is this just a case of Shadbolt and Co playing politics and damn the facts. If local councils really want to get rid of legal highs, they should do what Peter Dunne has repeatedly told them they should do – follow Hamilton District Council’s lead and set up bylaws that so constrict the sale of legal highs that it becomes almost impossible to set up a legal outlet.
Of course, does anyone want to hazard a guess as to what will happen then? Black markets? Unlicensed products flooding the streets, with all of the safety risks that entails? That’s the problem with policy created by hysteria; it tends to have unintended consequences…