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Recreational drug policy in disarray - ACT MP John Banks

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.

Comments and questions

It is the role of government to ensure citizens are left to live their personal lives free of interference so long as personal choices do not interfere with other's quiet enjoyment.

Laws based upon beliefs are a poor substitute for laws based upon scientific facts & knowledge. It's no wonder the drug laws are in disarray if ministers opinions are based upon beliefs rather than science.

Couldn't agree more.

Feel free to fill your body with whatever illicit drugs or substances you desire Anonymous. Just don't expect any right thinking, God fearing person, to agree that before you chose to do so, we should first condemn our beautiful animals to a slow and painful death. Simply so that you may enjoy a few fleeting moments of 'quiet enjoyment'. Get a life!.

And why should the taxpayer have to fund the inevitable late night dash to the emergency departments of hospitals by druggies, victims of druggies, and "medical marijuana" users.

If synthetic cannabis is legal, it has to be sold somewhere. I'm guessing you wouldn't be keen to have it on your street, with the store and customers disturbing your quiet enjoyment - so why should anyone else have to suffer it?

And who pays for the public health and social services clean up or (if you want to skimp on those two elements), police to keep the lid on?

Irrationality check. That was a belief.

Like alcohol prohibition; drug prohibition doesn't work. The drugs are still there and sold by gangs and cartels manufacturing in cat boots of dubious and often dangerous quality. Alcohol is by far the worst drug, if we base our assessment on harm to society and individuals then that must go first.
Otherwise I believe we should legalise it, regulate it, tax it and educate our people of the harms and let them be responsible for themselves.

Criminalising casual users is a unfair and a waste of resources.

I have not been a fan of John Banks for some years now, but he has impressed me on this. Congratulations on a principled stance, ahead of his political time.

Three cheers for John Banks for having the guts to stand against the prevailing "wisdom" of all the other MPs;they should be ashamed of their weak approach to this evil.
Even JK has now admitted that that law was a mistake,so it must be serious!
paleo martin

When society has to cope with the fallout then legal highs become everyones business.
The taxpayer has to pay for Hospital care when a legal high users body starts to fall apart.
A caring society means we look out for each other and try to stop people making destructive choices.

It is the Government's duty to protect society and its people. The people are unable to save themselves for some reason. They prefer not to work in NZ. They prefer to fish and do sports. That is the NZ way. The Government and the employers need to note this higher resistance to economic growth in NZ compared to other jurisdictions. If the drug-doors are opened then NZ society will collapse eventually upon itself. History proves it time and time again. What is stunning is that few seem to remember, and even fewer understand, the consequences. Its like the Reserve Bank being instructed to focus solely on inflation despite the economic-machine being made up of many pieces that must be constantly well-oiled. The consequences of being too focussed on one part only leads to the malfunction of the other parts. There is in NZ at the moment a total and absolute failure to consider the country as a society with overriding fundamental social and moral foundations that are necessary to preserve the integrity and the will of the people to work for and fight for the country they "own". The country is being sold out and gifted to migrants and foreign interests. Ask any person these days whether they would lay down their rights and fight for NZ to the death in a war. Few will say yes now that their inheritance and social glue is being dissolved by Government focussed on pursuing destabilising initiatives.

People should be free to live their lives but only so as not to negatively impact others. Working in Health care I experience daily consequences of taking these legal highs. The effects on people with disabilities that already has bad judgement is enormous. The burden on an already flaky health care system is increased. Where is my freedom to live my life peaceful?

Why not test the drugs on the people who want to sell them, I'm sure that would reduce the outlets that they're sold from if not stop the sales altogether.

Prohibition never works, it simply provides criminals with opportunity to make money. Education, regulation and taxation is by far the better way to go.

What a shame John Banks isn't Mayor of Auckland instead of brown.

Let's ban artificial highs and legalise marijuana.

I have never tried it myself, however overseas countries are experiencing good results with legalising it. Heck, when even US states are legalising it now (more dominoes falling) you have to be concerned...

NZ's not necessarily choosing the best public policy options so far.