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Game over: Safety fears spook New Zealand's drug reform pioneers

  1. Basoodler

    New Zealand's radical new approach to drugs may be stumbling at the first hurdle. Politicians have cancelled the first phase of a programme to legalise many recreational drugs, by banning all "legal highs" currently sold in the country until they have been proven to be low risk.

    The plan is still to legalise drugs that are shown to be safe – but some are worried that the government has been spooked by a flurry of media reports about addiction and drug harm.

    Designer drugs, also known as legal highs, have been a headache for policy-makers around the world as new drugs are invented faster than they can be banned.

    Last year, New Zealand introduced pioneering legislation that would legalise the sale of any new drugs that could be proven to carry a low risk of harm. The move away from simple prohibition is being watched around the world because it could provide answers to long-running arguments about whether banning drugs makes things better or worse.

    However, because the legislation would take a year or more to be fully operational, an expert committee recommended that in the interim, rather than banning all the legal highs currently being sold, the ministry ought to give temporary approval to those that appeared to be the least harmful. Of the hundreds previously available, 41 were given temporary approval.

    Poisons hotline

    Then, on Sunday night, the government announced that it would amend the legislation to end the interim period, and ban all legal highs until they are proven to be low risk.

    "Reports of severe adverse reactions continue to be received by the National Poisons Centre and Centre for Adverse Reactions Monitoring," said New Zealand's associate health minister Peter Dunne. "It has been impossible to attribute these adverse effects to any particular products and, in the absence of that, ministers accepted my recommendation at Cabinet last Tuesday to end the transitional period, taking all products with interim approval off the market." He said the plan is to pass the amendment through Parliament on 8 May.

    Leo Schep from the National Poisons Centre in Dunedin supports the move, and confirmed that there have been more calls relating to adverse reactions since the drugs were approved. But Schep said it was impossible to tell whether that was a result of the poisons hotline number being put on all the packets, or because there were actually more adverse reactions as a result of the temporary approval of some of the drugs.

    Science fail?

    But the interim period was put in place to avoid forcing products onto the black market where consumers would have no idea what they were taking.

    "There's been no thought of what the consequence of this is," says Ross Bell from the New Zealand Drug Foundation, which aims to minimise harm from drugs. "I thought that New Zealand was at a point where we were able to talk about drug policy in a different way – a more scientific, measured way. But that's obviously not the case."

    The government's announcement comes in an election year, and follows a slew of media reports of problems related to harms from legal highs, such as addiction. Bell suspects that the decision to introduce new legislation is about looking tough on drugs, because the existing legislation already gave the government the power to ban any specific drug that causes problems.

    Bell also points out that media reports about harms from legal highs are inevitable when a government is pushing through such radical legislation – and that politicians will need to keep cool heads as the reforms are rolled out. The new amendment to the original legislation casts doubt on their ability to do this: "This could potentially be a big setback to good progress of drug law reform," he says.

    19:08 28 April 2014 by Michael Slezak


  1. Basoodler
    May want to cross-post this to the cannabinoid sub forum.

    If they are wanting cannabinoids that are proven safe before legalizing , but can't seem to get around how to prove they are safe then we may have a problem.

    ...I guess they tried
  2. Basoodler
    New Zealand to Impose Total Ban on Synthetic Drugs; Rabbit Testing Makes John Key Uncomfortable

    by Reissa Su, au.ibtimes.com
    April 28 01:43 PM

    New Zealand families have reason to celebrate when the government announced a policy turnaround on synthetic drugs. According to a statement, the New Zealand government has imposed a ban on all synthetic drugs or "legal highs" until they are proven to be "low-risk."

    The changes to the synthetic drugs law will be introduced in Parliament by next week. The announcement by the government may have undermined the Labour party's plan to propose its own ban on psychoactive substances in response to increasing protests from communities regarding the harmful effects of legal highs.

    Sherilyn Tasker, one of the parents happy about the ban since her 21-year-old son suffered from synthetic drug use, said she is thankful that something is being done to prevent legal highs from causing further damage. Her son has spent time in the mental health ward due to the extreme effects of synthetic cannabis.

    According to Tasker, the proposed ban will be easier for her son to stop using synthetic drugs. She said many parents have been trying to solve this problem of synthetic drug use. She believes "a lot of ignorant people" are still unaware of the damage caused by synthetic drugs. Tasker said the effects could be "far worse than alcohol and marijuana."

    Meanwhile, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key indicated that animal testing might be an obstacle in the process of banning legal highs. The proposed law on legal highs ban will be passed under urgency on May 8. Key said he has no problem with testing on rodents but found it uncomfortable with other species of animals. He states that the government accepts testing on rodents but is opposed to using other animals although from time to time, rabbits were used.

    Key said he was informed that rodent testing did not indicate the harmful effects of thalidomide but if it was tested on rabbits, the problems may have appeared. He said he is "uncomfortable" with the idea of rabbit testing. If that's what it takes, Key said they will have to "go back to step one" and deliberate on a testing regime. Tests may take up to 18 months as authorities will have to work through them. Synthetic drug manufacturers will have to prove that legal highs pose no harmful risks.

  3. Dextronautical
    If they're banning this new surge of legal highs/rcs then that's a good move. The vast majority of these chems are whipped up in chinese labs and are rarely tested.

    Don't much trust them at all.
  4. Stickemupz
    I don't get my national neighbours decision in the first place personally regarding the move to allow and regulate RCs, a practically un-regulatable market due to severe lack of knowledge on said drugs.

    Why legalise a dangerous RC market w/out regulation and continue criminilisation of drugs like cannabis.

    You can have dangerous, untested or barely tested cannabinoids legally, but can't grow and smoke the safer, better real cannabis.

    It was probably great news for lots of New Zealander's when they announced the reforms, but they (politicians) ignored more logical drug reforms they already needed.
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