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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. 

What do you think? Is the government right to ban all legal highs?  Click here to vote in our subscriber-only business pulse poll.

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.

Comments and questions

Lawrence Yule:

It seems you have a dollar bet every which way Minister?

Minister Dunne:


Since nobody in Govt. has the guts or moral compass to totally ban these drugs, they might as well legalise all drugs & NZ can become the drug capital of the world.
Won't that be something to be proud of !!!

Truth is stranger than fiction.
It will be a mainstream business activity with quite a large national spend and tax take.
Its only a matter of time...

Why do the Govt put up with this wet fish Peter Dunne - he is a gutless wonder.

Has flip flopped between Labour and National via the United party - has no credibility at all

The Doctor is right in the money here with his comment. I suggest everyone email the Minister at and tell him what a wet fish the Minister is. Maybe if the Minister was not chasing attractive female reporters around and got on with the job at hand, we would get better results from the Minister and less flop flopping around. If you want evidence see TV1 7 Sharp Monday night.

I can not understand why the Minister has allowed these drugs to be sold in NZ. I am led to understand the Ministers son works as a solicitor representing the recreational drugs industry.

I say Dunne his done till time. My plea is for the residents in Ohariu is to vote for someone with common sense.

The Conservative party has been calling for these poisons to be banned for some time.

Its hard to believe Peter Dunne. You gutless so and so. Ban them immediately.

Will nobody rid us of this man !
Dunne is out of touch and certainly out of his depth on any matter.
His behind the scenes delaying of giving us back a more sensible 10 year passport pales into insignificance of his role in the progression to legalising mind altering substances in NZ.
We all know there is a campaign to decriminalise and when like all the other social experiments the country embraces fall as they do, flat on our face, I'll bet Dunne will be the first to claim not his fault. The next generation will pay dearly for the mental health costs associated from the freeing up of intoxicating substances that even any tax will not cover. Maybe the only saving grace will be self driving cars because at the moment liquor is blamed for what is clearly one of the highest dope smoking places on the planet and our high accident rates in road, industry, forestry and farm lives I guarantee is connected.
What use medicine curing dementia in old age when the young end up schizo and useless burdens on society into old age. Darwin had it right and I reckon he would if still around, agree Dunne hasn't a clue.

And people wonder why populist parties like NZ First look more and more attractive

This whole issue is a beat up, it's soooo easy to sensationalise this issue, all you have to do show some late night queues (generated by a pointless religious holiday based around a guy who rose from the dead 2000 years ago) on Campbell Live in some tabloid newspaper attempt to get ratings, show a few scrubber mums saying 'my son is going to die' show a few crusty old wine drinking local politicians threatening bans etc, the truth is NZ emergency departments are loaded with alcohol fueled munters, a substance no doubt exempt from having to prove it's safe because Dunne, Yule and others like their wine and whisky. This is in a way is entertaining to watch, the pissheads VSs the stoners, I say just legalise the real thing and the problem pretty well goes away and and of course raise the alcohol sales age... I like how in a so called free country liberties are so easily traded and anyway as a 50 year old white male I'll be buggered if I'm compromising my freedoms and rights in the face of the perpetual dog whistle of 'the mixed up teenagers have a problem', it's not my problem anymore - why should any of us who have successfully raised our families have to live as if it is - there is no connection there. Prediction - the genie is out of the bottle never to be put back in, consider that as you survey your pretentious wine cellar collection.

I can understand the predicament the Govt is in and it won't matter which Govt if the completely ban them it will straight away become exactly the same as Cannabis and the rest of the mind benders, trouble is none of you "Go Gooders" can come up with anything other than abuse and criticism of who ever is in charge.
Lets face it, there is just no way around Drugs full stop no matter what, but on the plus side, we can generate enough in fines etc, to mostly fund a fair bit of the Police budget.

Lots of countries have the death penalty for this behaviour. Time for Peter to announce his retirement from fantasyland

You all get your chance soon, but hells bells there isn't much of an alternative is there!!

Isn't it amazing how fast the government can move when they think there are votes to be had?
If they had bothered to consult with the community when drafting the bill in the first place, they would have found out the concerns held by everyone on the harm created by these substances.
Peter Dunne has done a well below par job on this and should be removed from his ministerial duties now.
Last week the govt had everything under control, so they said, now that there are votes to be gained they change their tune.
Well done to the mayors like Bill Dalton of Napier and others who have stood up to the govt re this very sad process..
What a sad day for commonsense!

Dont forget Mana and hundreds of NZ mums who tirelessly drove this campaign.

Lets here it for the mums!!

As this policy announcement dynamic began to unfold couldn't this possibly have been an example of cross-party collaboration instead of mindless political "point-scoring"?

In order to prevent stock-piling or other behaviour ahead of the ban?

However on second thoughts I'm clearly being naive and need a Sunday night cup-of-tea and an early night...

I would have thought that a 119 to 1 vote in parliament for the current legislation showed cross party support. Can't beat a bit of political posturing though when there is a band wagon to jump on in an election year.

It rather looks as if the government has run out of ideas. Stealing from the opposition and running off going "nyah nyah" hardly inspires confidence.

Is the well really all that dry? Perhaps Don Brash was right about National losing it's vision.

Thanks NBR for being the only news service to report this matter in such detail.
Dunnes credibility has just been shown for all its worth in one fell swoop.
The hypocrisy is breathtaking. Only this weekend he was bleating on TV at full bellow how he was not for turning and in true farce something happened last night and the man thinks we are stupid enough to believe it was all an act and he had a cunning plan all along. Truth is his master made a phone call and Dunne did as he was told. Oh how quick things get sorted once politics is at play.
The man is a walking comedy fest.

yeah its trully a life changing experience for me, being witness to these underhanded events

why cant NZ's underclass be supported up, instead of poisoned down, and the clean up paid for by the tax payer?

"... will ban all synthetic drugs within two weeks until they can be proven to be low-risk."

I think the operative word is "until". That's another way of saying "pending".

There is no way National is going to ban these. Too many incumbent interests making money from other people's misery. A ban is about as likely as National becoming a centre right conservative party.

Dunne dropped the ball here - if he could ban them outright he should have done it from the introduction of the Bill. This flip flop is only due to media and public pressure. It also reflects badly on the credibility of the government and its coalition partners (and from a National voter!)

Dunne dropped the ball?

Here's who voted for the Psychoactive Substances Bill in July last year

AYES 119: New Zealand National 59; New Zealand Labour 33; Green Party 14; New Zealand First 7; Māori Party 3; Mana 1; Independents:
Dunne, Horan.

NOES 1: ACT New Zealand 1.

So Act were the only party to vote against this flawed legislation.
Shows the benefit of having a right-leaning party with some morals!
Shame on all the others!
paleo martin

Doesn't it reflect badly on all MP's that the current legislation and timeline was supported 119-1? So what you are saying is that John Banks is the only one who looks good in this.

Sad day when the one person who says to no to drugs in parliament is the one on a possible path to jail.

I have yet to see any research beyond tabloid or sensational reporting on this topic.

I am not saying legal highs are a good thing but banning anything does nothing more than push up prices, profit motivate the criminal element and make getting help more difficult.

What about alcohol, documented as causing horrendous harm.

I would prefer to slowly ratchet up the price of booze, legalise and control distribution and quality of the "soft drugs".

I think we should admit, people like to get high or tipsy.

That will not change.

Perhaps we could start a chastity pledge for booze and highs with teenagers...sure that will work well...

The entire issue is absurd. Legalize cannabis and be done with it. There is no way the issue of intoxicants will go away and the government's stupid efforts to control this are amateurish at best.

Under the law to ban until "low-risk" can be proven puts cannabis in the good to go category and all these synthetics in a TDB category. So the simple solution is legalize cannabis, ban these synthetics and get on with it.

There is ample evidence to show what happens when cannabis is legalized, whether Amsterdam, California, Colorado, Washington.....

In this respect New Zealand remains a global backwater.

The molecules that make up legal highs should be treated in no way differently than new experimental drugs for disease are treated. That is, the manufacturer has to establish to the satisfaction of an independent regulator through the tried and true methods of drug development, toxicology testing, pharmacokinetics and clinical trial that their proposed new drug is both safe and effective for human use. And if they can’t prove that, or the drug fails at some stage during development or clinical trial then it is just tough titties. Big pharma does this all the time and you don’t hear them bleating on about it.

Same should go for the legal high industry.

So, ... alcohol and tobacco apparently have a higher social cost to New Zealand but a lower outrage quotient for New Zealanders ... ah yes ... election year!