1 Sep 2014

Group keen to restrict legal high sales

7:21 am on 1 September 2014

A Whanganui Maori development organisation is aiming to get 500 submissions to restrict the sale of synthetic drugs in the city.

Synthetic cannabis and a pipe.

Synthetic cannabis and a pipe. Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Legal highs were removed for sale by the Government in May.The Psychoactive Substances Bill made it an offence to sell, supply or possess synthetic cannabis.

However, the Ministry of Health is developing regulations to the legislation to help manufacturers prove they are a low risk.

Once that happens, it is expected synthetic highs will be reintroduced to the market early next year.

Community Action on Drugs co-ordinator Julie Herewini said synthetic highs had proved to have harmful effects on many people, non-Maori and Maori alike.

She said Nga Tai o Te Awa wants to protect the most vulnerable people in the community - rangatahi Maori (Māori youth).

"As a Maori organisation we acknowledge that issues in relation to legal highs are suffered through out all facets of our community," she said.

"We had one example of one kuia (elderly woman/grandmother) in the Ruapehu region saying that these substances had stolen the wairua of her mokopuna (grandchild), which is really distressing for us ...

"We feel that there is absolutely no need to add another dangerous addictive substance to the legal market for our people to get caught up in."

Nga Tai o Te Awa is working with the Wanganui District Council to try to regulate where and when synthetic substances can be sold.

"Under the Psychoactive Substances Act, each council has been given the opportunity to develop a local approved products policy, which is what we are encouraging our community to submit on," said Ms Herewini.

"So, this is the Council's policy and we are actively out there in the community to try to get them to have their say.

"We agree that places selling legal highs should only be located within the central business district, because we don't want them to be out in our residential areas, particularly in our low socio-economic areas."

Ms Herewini said although they want council policy to be to restrict the sale of synthetic drugs to the CBD, they don't want them sold on the main street, Victoria Avenue.

"We want them (places that sell the products) located in the CBD because there is closed circuit TV monitoring, and it's within close proximity to the police station," she said.

"The reason we don't want them on Victoria Avenue is because we don't want the industry to set up here and think that this is an acceptable business in our community."

Nga Tai o Te Awa wants to restrict the sale of legal highs so they are not sold near any marae, schools, places of worship, bus stops, or community facilities. It also does not want the stores to be within 300 metres of each other.

Ms Herewini said the organisation was working in tandem with the Wanganui District Council.

"We've been lucky enough with our council to be part of the Safer Whanganui group which is a community and council partnership.

"The Council and the Safer Whanganui group have decided to work together to develop the policy rather than in some areas, where policy analysts will sit in their office and they will put together the policy and then send it out to hear the community's say.

"Our council's decided that this issue needs community input right from the start, so there are a number of us from community organisations within the health sector and social services sector getting involved in developing this policy."

Ms Herewini said that would give the council a really good idea what the community thought.

She added that they wanted legal highs to be sold only from Monday to Saturday between 9am and 5pm, and not on Sundays or public holidays.

The Whanganui woman said it would also send a clear message to the synthetic drugs industry that they cannot just come and sell their products whereever, whenever and however they wish.

Submissions closed at 5pm on 29 August.