Recreational drug policy in disarray - ACT MP John Banks

John Banks: “I was the sole MP to oppose this flawed legislation. Now there is a stampede of MPs opposing it"

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ACT's sole MP, John Banks, is savaging the government for being "in disarray" over recreational drug policy.

After a week of negative publicity, including a Campbell Live piece that dragged a seemingly surprised and disturbed Internal Affairs Minister Peter Dunne to a store selling legal highs, the government announced on Sunday that it will introduce legislation under urgency this week to pull 41 synthetic cannabis products from shelves. The burden of proof will now be on importers to prove a drug is save.

Mr Banks was the only no vote as the Psychoactive Substances Act (2013) was passed into law by 119 votes to 1 in July 2013.

“I was the sole MP to oppose this flawed legislation. Now there is a stampede of MPs opposing it, Mr Banks says.

However, the Epsom MP comes at the issue from a different direction from new ACT leader Jamie Whyte.

Part of Mr Whyte's libertarian philosophy is that all drugs should be decriminalised (although he stresses he won't "hijack" the party's policy with his personal views).

Mr Banks' opposition centres on one of his personal crusades: cruelty to animals. No animal should be tortured to test fun drugs with no pharmaceutical benefit, he says.

The Psychoactive Substances Act requires animal testing to prove a synthetic drug is safe for humans, but no testing has taken place since it was passed in 2013. Prime Minister John Key said last night that debate about testing had caused delays. Mr Key did not support testing on dogs or rabbits, but did support testing on rats; Mr Banks says "rats have dignity, too". The ACT MP wants all animal testing ruled out.

“I opposed it because I deeply believe that there is no need to use animals to establish whether these recreational drugs are toxic or cause cancer or genetic mutation," Mr Banks says.

“Using evidence from animal testing on beagle puppies or any other animal to establish the safety of non-therapeutic ‘fun drugs’ is morally objectionable.

This concern remains, the ACT MP says. 

“I am interested in seeing an amendment to this law that outlaws the use of evidence, gained from animal testing, to establish the safety of recreational drugs.

“I am advised that animal testing evidence is not needed and is not necessary to be reasonably certain about safety," Mr Banks says.

“Any residual safety issues for recreational drugs should be handled by informed consumer consent and public health warnings and any public health consequences funded by excise taxes.

“I believe using any drug recreationally is, in most cases bad for health and unwise."

The Epsom MP stood down as ACT leader after being ordered to stand trial on charges of knowingly filing a false election return, which he denies. He will retire as an MP after the September 20 election.

Mr Banks could not say if ACT's new leader supported his animal test-ban stance.

Mr Whyte did not immediately return a request for comment.

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

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