Govt beats Cunliffe to the punch — by minutes — with plan to ban all legal highs
The National-led government has gazumped Labour's plan to pull all synthetic cannabis from stores immediately.
This afternoon Internal Affairs Minister and UnitedFuture leader Peter Dunne said cabinet would approve a plan to ban all "legal highs" within two weeks. Legislation will be introduced to Parliament under urgency this week. It will see 41 products removed from the market straight away, and the burden of proof moved onto importers to prove a drug is safe.
At midday, Labour leader David Cunliffe's office sent an advisory to media that his party would outline a "synthetic cannabis proposal" in Mangere at 1.30pm Monday.
Shortly after, Mr Dunne broke the news to the Herald that the National-led government "will ban all synthetic drugs within two weeks until they can be proven to be low-risk."
Minutes later, Labour rush-released its own policy.
As the policy action wrapped up, Mr Dunne tweeted, "And it was supposed to be a quiet trip to Hamilton today!” — indicating the government's policy release had been moved up to spoil Mr Cunliffe's Monday event.
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Dunne won't rule out tax on legal highs
April 26: Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne says he will work with councils to shorten the timeframe until the Psychoactive Substances Act’s full implementation.
The Act, passed in July last year, has seen several products banned, with there importers unable to prove they are safe, but interim approval granted to around 300 "new psychoactive substances" or "legal highs" — the most common of which are variants of synthetic cannabis.
The full approval process will get underway later this year.
Mr Dunne told TV3's The Nation this morning, “I don’t want to put a timeline on that specifically, but if you said to me in three months’ time have we got this resolved I’d be wanting to say to you absolutely”
The minister said he is reviewing the issues raised in the media about particular products on the market at the moment
He would not rule out raising taxes on legal highs.
Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule said the products ruled relatively safe are causing “carnage” around New Zealand, but that “I think we’re past the point of a ban.”
What do you think? Is the government right to ban all legal highs? Click here to vote in our subscriber-only business pulse poll.RAW DATA: The Nation transcript: Lisa Owen interviews Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne and Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule
Minister, I want to come to you first. Given the public backlash and the outcry from mayors from Whangarei to Gore and more marches taking place over the weekend, isn’t it now clear that you are out of step with what the public wants with this law?
Dunne: No in fact it’s not. We have a law that has reduced the number of outlets by 95 percent, reduced the number of products by over two thirds, we have a law which has seen a significant reduction in the overall market since it was passed last July. There are some issues around particular products that are on the market at the moment – I’m having more work done on those. But fundamentally we have a law that will work and will achieve the goal of reducing the scourge of psychoactive substances right across the country.
Isn’t the problem though that by making something legal you are saying that we condone this, we condone taking drugs and that is what the pushback from the public is over?
Dunne: No we’re not making something legal. These products have been legally available for some years, what we are putting in place is a regime that will more effectively manage their use by removing the most dangerous ones, by requiring all products that seek to enter the market to be tested to see whether they pose a risk or not and where that risk becomes clear then removing them, and also giving councils the power to determine the circumstances under which they can be retailed locally.
Mr Yule, the councils have the power to regulate, it’s been in your hands for nine months, I think what is it six of you have done something, 30 are working on a plan, and who knows what the rest are up to. Doesn’t that prove that the minister is right: you’re a bunch of whingers and moaners and your tardiness in dealing with this is irresponsible?
Yule: No, I don’t agree with that at all. In fact what’s ended up happening is the Parliament has passed a law 119:1 to regulate these products. Local government has ended up in this space because we are meant to determine where these things are sold. They are legal, they are legal highs, which is an oxymoron in itself, and out in our communities we are seeing the effects – not only the visual effects of people queuing up in our main streets where the places are to buy these things. But equally we’re now starting to see the effects of people that are addicted or using these products flow through to a whole lot of other areas of our community and we don’t like it.
So you want a ban, explain now to the Minister how your proposal for a ban would work.
Yule: Well I think we’re past the point of a ban to be honest. If I went back and said to, Minister if I went back and said all my mayors they would want you to ban this stuff. I heard you at a recent thing saying if you had the power and you thought that would work you would want that as well. What we’ve ended up with is a frustrating situation where local government is forced to set these policies, where the majority of our community want a ban, where in some cases have brought in policies, in my own place in Hastings we have one, in Hamilton we have one, both are under appeal. We don’t actually know at this point whether we’re have any real say in any of the management of these products.
Your response to that, Minister?
Dunne: Can I respond to that? Look, I think there’s common ground between Lawrence and me and I really appreciate what he’s said. None of us like these substances, none of us want to see them proliferate. The effective question is how do we control them in our society, and it’s not just in New Zealand – right around the world the same questions are being asked. Bans have been proven not to work, so we’ve got to do something that’s pragmatic, that’s flexible, and it’s workable.
Hang on a minute, Minister, in Ireland and New South Wales they have bans. Let’s look at Ireland for example, they had 119 stores, the ban comes in, overnight it went to 12 stores and then those closed. So it worked, didn’t it?
Dunne: It went down to six and when I spoke to the Irish Minister of Health less than a month ago, he said it’s been a complete disaster: all we’ve done is take these things off the main street and on to the black market, the quantity of product is unchanged, the problems people were experiencing has not changed. He said we wish we hadn’t done it. In New South Wales the bans theoretically apply to all substances, but in effect apply only to known products so new products are still emerging and are still being purveyed. We’ve been through that process.
Lawrence Yule, let’s bring Lawrence Yule in.
What I think we should have done is actually banned all the products immediately from a certain time and then had them properly tested and then reintroduce them back into the market. Effectively what we’ve done is said ‘we’ve got all these products, we’ll reduce the most dangerous ones and we’ll end up with about 40 that are now being sold’. What I’m seeing in my community, both in terms of the numbers of people that are lining up for these 40 and now also the police, the health people, the welfare agencies, these products which are considered relatively safe are still causing carnage in communities right around New Zealand.
Dunne: I’ll make two points in response to that. Again I don’t disagree with what Lawrence is saying. I think what’s happened in the last 12 months for various reasons, which are multi and complex, is that products that we previously assumed were safe because no significant issues had been reported about them are now rightly or wrongly being portrayed as being dangerous. I think in retrospect we probably should have taken all off at the time the legislation was introduced but it was a pragmatic decision based on getting rid of the worst of them. As I said at the beginning of this interview, I am currently reviewing all of the issues around the situation we face at the moment. I think what Lawrence has indicated is an area where we have some common ground and we can work on.
So you’re ruling out the prospect of a ban all together, why not bring forward the part of the legislation which makes these people prove that the product is safe?
Well there are a couple of reasons for that. Again, the timing on that is not specific. The timing has been set at some point early next year, partly to allow councils time to put their plans in place. What I’m hearing –
Let’s hear from Lawrence Yule –
Hang on, I want to make. Lisa can I make a very important point, which I’m not being confrontational here. What I hear Lawrence saying today, which I think is extremely helpful, is that councils from his perspective would be prepared to work with us around that point and I think that’s a point that we can take forward – about how we can shorten that time frame and start to make the permanent regime more effective more quickly.
How quickly do you think you could bring it forward?
Well look, I can’t answer that now, that’s something I think we would need to talk about, but I got the sense from what Lawrence was saying that’s something that he would be open to.
So you need to get moving.
Yule: Well we are moving. The point is the Government needs to decide whether it wants to actually bring forward this time when it actually bans the products until they’re proven safe, in other words that’s the concept. Equally local authorities, and there’s 35 of them or something, are working through local approved product policies – the problem with that is until we get the appeals of Hamilton and Hastings the rest of local government doesn’t actually understand where the ground rules sit. In Hastings we’ve banned one because it’s too close to a church and we’ve banned another one because it’s too close to that one – so it’s a density issue. If we lose that case then we are exactly back to square one where we have very little control over where we can have them and that same retailer has already said if that’s the case I’ll move into the main street because I’m making so much money out of this I can afford to pay premium rents.
Minister, do you think you can get this sorted this year – to bring it forward this year?
Dunne: Look, I’m very hopeful we can. And I’m very hopeful we can make some significant progress in the next little while. I don’t want to put a timeline on that specifically, but if you said to me in three months’ time have we got this resolved I’d be wanting to say to you absolutely.
Lawrence Yule, I want to put to you the fact that in reality this law is working, isn’t it? The figures show that 4000 odd products down to 150 or just over, you’re concentrating buying in certain areas, those queues you’re talking about that’s proof it’s working?
Yule: Well it may be proof, but what it has done is engender a knowledge amongst our public of this issue and they don’t like it. So they don’t like it and –
But that’s NIMBYism isn’t it?
Yule: No it’s not NIMBYism –
Not in my backyard.
Yule: No, no. It’s partly it’s not in my backyard if you’re a retailer next to one of these stores. I mean if we wanted to put these stores next to every MP’s electoral office around New Zealand I’d be very interested in the reaction they would get.
Minister: queues out the door in some places to get this product, I’m wondering why don’t we tax it at a higher rate then, like you do with tobacco and alcohol, and make it a price point issue?
Dunne: That is an issue I’ve discussed with the Minister of Finance and I wouldn’t rule out there being some move in that direction in the future once all of this settles down. Can I just go back to a point that Lawrence made about councils being asked to put these stores in places, in fact, we have no new licences being issued. So we’re talking about the 150 retailers that there are at the moment, all of which are R18 or specialty stores – if councils draw their zones in certain ways they can exclude those people from being able to operate, and they cannot then shift to another site and say we’re going to operate from that.
Yule: But minister that is simply simplistic, because what that does –
Dunne: No it’s not, that actually recognises -
Yule: You are effectively saying that we can ban these products by using our policies -
Dunne: But that’s what you asked for, that’s what we gave you the power to do.
Yule: No, no, what you did was set up a policy that we could have some input. We now have some input, we’re going through this — in Hamilton and Hastings case we’re being challenged. If those are lost there is no way that local authorities can effectively force bans in their own communities.
Dunne: Well local government asked for the power to establish local policies in the same way that you do with alcohol. Parliament, and you acknowledged that Lawrence, by 119 to one gave you that power, Parliament expects to see that being implemented. If there are judicial reviews being lodged against particular decisions then frankly they have to be dealt with by the councils themselves because that’s part of the process. But I think it’s a pretty weak excuse to say because a couple of cases are being appealed we’ll all sit on our hands and do nothing –
Yule: No, but minister we need to get to the point: are you or are you not saying that effectively local government can ban these products in certain towns in New Zealand? Are you or are you not saying that?
Dunne: What I am saying is local government can devise local plans which regulate the availability in their areas and, if you take the Hamilton example, create a situation where there are no stores eligible to sell these products within the Hamilton city council area.
Yule: So that is a ban.
Dunne: Well it’s a matter of giving the councils the power they asked for.
Minister Dunne then are you advocating prohibition by stealth?
Dunne: No I’m not advocating prohibition by stealth. We’re working our way through what is a sensible, workable solution. And what we need the cooperation from the councils and I thought Lawrence was evincing that a little earlier and I hope we can work on that space to actually get a solution that a) tones down the argument, because I don’t think it’s frankly helpful to anyone at the moment, and b) creates workable solutions in our communities.
Last word to Lawrence Yule
Yule: Well Minister, effectively if you say you would like these products banned, I say we would like these products banned, and then communities throughout New Zealand set up these LAPPs that are effectively bans. I would hope that the Ministry of Health and the Government would support those community views and expectations, and that’s the thing that’s been tested at the moment.
Thank you very much –
Dunne: No the council –
Minister we need to leave it there, thank you very much for joining us this morning, Minister Peter Dunne and Lawrence Yule in the studio, thank you so much.