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New Zealand's Landmark Drug Law Draws International Interest

By Docta, Aug 3, 2013 | | |
  1. Docta
    WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- A novel New Zealand law that could legalize some designer drugs is being scrutinized with interest by other countries struggling to keep up with the proliferation of "party pills" and similar products.

    The law, enacted two weeks ago, represents a U-turn from the traditional approach of banning synthetic drugs. Instead, New Zealand will attempt to regulate them, allowing their sale if they go through rigorous safety testing similar to that for pharmaceuticals. Giving users a high wouldn't be a reason to ban them, a government health official said, though they would need to come with warnings, such as not driving while under their influence.

    The policy is getting some attention globally. A group of British parliamentarians this year recommended adopting a similar policy. Australian officials have contacted their New Zealand counterparts to learn more. And the New York-based nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates legalizing marijuana, said this week that it wants to get a similar bill introduced in Congress.

    But while the new law is giving fuel to some politicians and lobbying groups, most countries are likely to adopt a wait-and-see approach. If anything, the U.S. has become more aggressive in prosecuting cases since President Barack Obama signed a federal law last year banning 26 new synthetic substances.

    Sold under street names such as "spice," and "bath salts," the drugs often mimic banned substances such as marijuana, ecstasy and methamphetamine. The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse says bath salts, a meth-like stimulant, can produce feelings of euphoria and increased sex drive and sociability, but also can have side-effects including paranoia, delirium and, in some cases, death.

    Like many countries, New Zealand has been inundated with designer drugs in recent years, and has become frustrated with finding itself a step behind the manufacturers. Once a drug is declared illegal, a maker often alters its composition slightly to create a new, legal compound.

    That cat-and-mouse game prompted the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime to describe the industry as "hydra-headed" in a June report, and say the international drug control system is foundering, because of the speed and creativity with which manufacturers are producing new variants of the drugs.

    "The basic prohibitionist approach doesn't seem to be working," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the American group. "Either a drug is criminalized, and underground chemists produce a new compound, or it's not criminal because it's never been created before."

    The number of new psychoactive substances rose from 166 at the end of 2009 to 251 by mid-2012, and the Internet is helping fuel sales, the U.N. report said. It found nearly 5 percent of Europeans between the ages of 15 and 24 had tried designer drugs, and that the drugs ranked second in popularity among American university students, behind only marijuana. The manufacturers are often located in China, India and parts of Europe, the report said.

    Yury Fedotov, the executive director of the U.N. office, said in the report that it is vital to find innovative measures to deal with the problem.

    New Zealand lawmakers passed the Psychoactive Substances Bill in a lopsided 119-1 vote. Under the new law, any approved drugs would be restricted to people over 18 years old and couldn't be sold in supermarkets, convenience stores or gas stations. Advertising would be restricted to the point of sale. Drugs already deemed illegal, such as marijuana and cocaine, would remain so. The law has provoked some protests, because the drugs would be tested on animals as part of the approval process.

    Dr. Stewart Jessamine, the New Zealand health ministry official, said makers would need to show their drug is free from high rates of serious side effects such as reproductive problems, seizures and addiction. They also need to demonstrate they have clean manufacturing labs and secure supply chains.

    Jessamine estimated it would cost manufacturers about 2 million New Zealand dollars ($1.6 million) and take about a year to get a drug approved. He said there have already been 10 to 15 applications for licenses under a provision of the new law that could allow some producers to continue selling their products while undertaking the trials, if they apply within an initial 28-day window.

    Bill sponsor Peter Dunne said that at U.N. presentations, government officials from around the world have been asking about the new law. "The Hungarians, the Irish, the British, they're all keen to know what we are up to," he said. "It's seen as cutting edge. They want to see how it works, and view it for their own country."

    Dunne said getting a designer drug approved as low-risk might prove a Catch-22 for some producers, because some young people might lose interest if they think the drug is too tame.

    Matt Bowden, a musician who has been selling party pills in New Zealand off and on since 2000, said in a submission in support of the bill that he wants to build a plant to manufacture the drugs in New Zealand.

    In an email to The Associated Press, Bowden said party pills are safer than methamphetamine. "I was criticized heavily in my home country over the 15 years I fought for sensible drug policy," he added, "but now that it is receiving commendations from United Nations, it has made it all worthwhile."

    By NICK PERRY 08/02/13 (AP)


  1. Alfa
    What is Bowden ( @starboy ) exactly referring to? If its the quote in this article that the UN wants to look at more effective solutions to deal with the problem, then that is twisting their words. But it seems to me that there is an important quote from the UN missing in this article.
  2. Thirdedge
    Matt seems to employ a press team who are experts at twisting his opponents words into support. He is better than a politician at this. Gotta give credit where credit is due, his press release skills and continued optimism are to be admired. Sometimes it almost seems he uses creative visualization to obtain the results he desires.
  3. 5-HT2A
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but most designer drugs are addictive to some extent. Naturally, MDPV is more addictive than MXE which is more addictive than JWH-200 which is more addictive than 5-MeO-DALT. Does the new law really say that a drug simply can't be addictive? ALL drugs are addictive. That's how we know they are worth taking at least sometimes.

    Despite the progress that is clearly being made, it is funny to think that something like MXE which is clearly toxic if used to excess but relatively harmless when used in moderation could become over-the-counter fun, and yet marijuana, which you can use almost endlessly without serious problems will remain illegal.
  4. Alfa
    Psilocin is not addictive. The massive tolerance increase that occurs with frequent use gets in the way of prolonged use. That's why we do not hear about mushroom addiction. Well, safe for some government anti-drug propaganda websites.
    I think the addiction level needs to be limited, just has the harmfulness. For a new drug to be approved it surely must not be the next heroin or meth.
  5. Thirdedge
    At the moment it looks like synthetic cannabinoids in an e-cig device that deliver a mild vapor hit is whats first on the cards.

    While Psilocin would be a better choice it is already a controlled substance under the misuse of drugs act, so its not applicable. That part of the legislation is disgusting, but still, hopefully if Matt B can get some mild substances approved and show that regulation works, it will pose the obvious question "perhaps we should try the same with natural cannabis or psychedelics. Put all substances on a level playing field."

    I am not sure if analogues are counted as controlled substances under the act or not. If they are not, something like M1 or analogues of Psilocin in mild oral dose may work.

    Here are some official links on the bill:

    General Info:


    The official Bill:

    Application forms for vendors:
  6. SmokeTwibz
    New Zealand Regulates -- Not Bans -- Synthetic Drugs

    Like other countries around the world, New Zealand has been grappling with the rise of the new synthetic drugs, such as the stimulant-type drugs known as "bath salts." Unlike other countries around the world, including the United States, Kiwi lawmakers have responded not by attempting to ban them out of existence, but moving instead to regulate them.

    "Regulating psychoactive substances will help protect the health of, and minimize harm to, individuals who use these substances," said the Ministry of Health in support of the bill.

    Passed on July 17 and put into effect the following day, the Psychoactive Substance Act of 2013 creates a new government agency, the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority, to ensure that the new synthetics meet safety standards before going to market. The Authority is also charged with developing, implementing, and administering a licensing scheme for researchers, retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers, and importers.

    That means that instead of sending in SWAT teams to bust underground synthetic drug labs, New Zealand will allow the drugs to be legally manufactured under strict regulations. But those seeking to manufacture them legally will have to demonstrate that they pose a low risk to consumers, including undergoing rigorous clinical trials to determine toxicity and addictiveness and subsequent approval by an independent expert advisory committee.

    "Simply banning these drugs only incentivizes producers to develop drugs that get around the law -- regardless of what they will do to the people that take them," said Ross Bell, executive director of the New Zealand Drug Foundation. "This model incentivizes producers to develop drugs that are safer. We think that's a much smarter way to go about it."

    Under the new law, regulations on the sale and purchase of the new synthetics immediately went into effect, including a ban on sales to people under 18, a ban on sales in convenience stores, and requirements for labeling and packaging, including mandatory health warnings.

    "This represents a potentially transformative breakthrough in the legal regulation of drugs that typically have been criminalized with little forethought," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the US Drug Policy Alliance. "It pokes an important hole in the edifice of drug prohibition."

    Other countries may be interested in enlarging that hole, the Associated Press reported last week. It cited interest in the New Zealand model among Australian and British parliamentarians and quoted bill sponsor MP Peter Dunne as saying others were interested, too.

    "The Hungarians, the Irish, the British, they're all keen to know what we are up to," he said. "It's seen as cutting edge. They want to see how it works, and view it for their own country."

    August 09, 2013
    Phillip Smith | StoptheDrugWar.org
  7. anj0vis
    I think this New Zealand initiative is about the biggest and boldest move to more sensible drug policy since a hundred years. I understand easily the reasons why they cannot do turn around with currently already illegal substances, as there is the political fight involved, UN treaties and all that. Now what is needed is a sensible and responsible private company that would go through all the trouble and do some research on a few well chosen designer drugs to find something that is rather safe to use.

    I would like to hear what people think would be the possible candidates for regulated psychoactives under this bill. My best guesses would be:
    - 4-aco-mipt
    very similar to psilocin in effects, I suspect it has similarly low toxicity and effectively it is non-addictive

    - 4-aco-dmt
    the same as above, but depends on the fact that if the analogue act renders the chance to make this a candidate impossible

    - 6-apb/5-apb
    mda analogues that probably have similar safety limits, my guess is that they can be mildly addictive for small portion of population (less than caffeine for sure, probably on par with mdma) so not sure if they would pass the regulations

    - methylone
    mdma analogue, similar as above, but since it is class C in new zealand, I guess this is off limits already

    - any 2c-x that is not yet classified
    as a psychedelic they would not be addictive in the true sense of the word and if the LD50 limits turn out to be similar to 2c-b and no surprising side-effects are found, it might be also good candidate. I am not just aware if they are all out of the game due 2c-b being illegal already.

    I do not expect that any of the new stimulants would pass the test, they are too addictive and also hazard to mental and physical health in excessive use. Also probably none of the new dissociatives would pass the health risk tests, somewhat addictive nature and possibility for psycholocial and physical trouble might render them unable to pass. But I am not expert on all of them, so cannot say for sure. Needless to say that any of the new opiate receptor ligands would not pass due addictiveness.
  8. anj0vis
    Ok, in fact there was some clausure that was outlined in FAQ which said that if some shop had been selling a product for 3 months prior to the new law and the substance had not been banned before the law, the sales of the susbtance can be licensed. If I understood correctly, these spice products continue to be legally sold:

    correct me if I am wrong.. if there is anybody in new zealand, would be great to hear personal notes about how this works now.
  9. anj0vis
    Better explanation of the New Zealand system
    New Zealand’s bold experiment with regulating recreational drugs

    It’s been nearly a century since the United States began its experiment in prohibiting recreational drugs besides alcohol, caffeine and tobacco — and virtually no one sees the trillion dollar policy as a success. A recent study [PDF] shows that drug prices have dropped more than 80 percent in the last two decades alone; purity and availability has risen; and overall addiction and death rates haven’t been cut, despite an exponential increase in incarceration since the 1980s.

    Even the hardline U.N. drug czar admitted in the annual World Narcotics Report [PDF] that “the international drug control system is floundering,” citing specifically its inability to match the speed and creativity of Internet-enabled chemists who create and distribute new legal highs like “bath salts” and “fake marijuana” faster than governments can ban them.

    But one country is trying a new approach. For the first time in history, New Zealand has created a regulatory body to oversee recreational drugs. Passed by parliament this summer on a vote of 119 to 1, the legislation has already granted interim approval to over 50 products with names like “Dr. Feelgood,” “4:20,” and “Everest Tibetan Toot.”

    The world should closely watch what happens next. If implemented carefully, New Zealand’s new laws offer the first genuinely scientific and public health-oriented approach to dealing with the negative aspects of humanity’s eternal quest for consciousness alteration. Anthropology tells us that getting high is universal — no culture, no matter how remote, lacks chemical experimentation.

    After all, few existing U.S. drug laws were based on a medical assessment of the relative risks of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, heroin, cocaine and others. Instead, they were derived from historical contingencies and, typically, explicit racism.

    The first state laws against cocaine, for example, were passed because the drug was believed to make blacks into “fiends” who would rape white women and be impervious to bullets. The first state laws against opium made similar claims about its effects on Chinese railroad workers — and marijuana prohibition followed a scare campaign about its link with Mexicans and blacks and ability to promote violence and interracial liaisons.

    By contrast, New Zealand’s new laws specify that products with “low risk” of death, other harms or addiction must be approved — and leaves it up to a scientific committee to define the precise nature and appropriate definition of “low risk.” Drugs that are already illegal will remain so, probably to avoid conflict with international law. The legislation makes no mention of benefits or efficacy, so manufacturers do not have to prove that their drugs are better than placebos.

    At least six drugs have already been rejected. However, the law allowed marketers to keep selling products they have submitted for approval, if they’d already been marketed without incident for at least three months. (The rationale was that since bans cannot keep up, it is futile to add more while the approval process is starting.)

    Not surprisingly, all new drugs will remain illegal for people under 18. They can only be sold at specific, licensed outlets — not convenience stores or other places frequented by youth — and must carry packaging identifying the ingredients and including health warnings about the known and potential risks. No advertising is permitted, except inside the store itself.

    Will this legislation work? It’s certainly an improvement on the current system, which essentially allows new drugs to be marketed worldwide without testing. It also avoids problems with attempts — like pending legislation on which hearings were held last month in the U.S. Senate — to create blanket bans on all possible analogues of existing psychoactive drugs.

    Such prohibitions not only fail to stop chemists from creating newer compounds, but also cause serious problems for healthcare. Many of these substances have potential medical uses — in fact, they are often based on information from pharmaceutical patent applications — but once they are made illegal, drug companies tend to lose interest because of the excess cost and greater risk of rejection when seeking approval. The former top adviser to the British government on drug policy, Dr. David Nutt, has compared the loss to medicine that results to the delays in scientific advancement caused by the Catholic church’s actions against Galileo and Copernicus.

    In the last month alone, we’ve seen several dramatic examples of the harm caused by failure of our current policy. Two college students at a New York dance festival died from taking “Molly” (MDMA, the drug formerly known as ecstasy) of unknown provenance and purity. A drug that causes severe disfigurement — including crocodile-like skin scales, amputations and bone and muscle loss due to improper synthesis of its main ingredient — known as Krokodil, is suspected to have migrated from Russia to Arizona. And a new report showed that nearly 23,000 emergency room visits in 2011 were linked to “bath salts.”

    Of course, regulation won’t make recreational drug use perfectly safe — this is already clear from our experience with tobacco, prescription drugs and alcohol. However, it also won’t add to the harm done by drugs the way incarcerating users and forcing them to rely on the vagaries of the black market does. People will always seek chemical euphoria, enlightenment and escape — so instead of locking them up and ceding the market to organized crime, we need to give them the safest possible choices and spend the money saved on enforcement on treatment and education instead.

    Research shows repeatedly that providing safer alternatives — like clean needles, pharmaceutical-quality drugs and safe spaces in which to use them — improves health. By taking both advertising and gangsters out of the mix, New Zealand’s system offers a promising new way. While a drug-free world is clearly impossible, harm reduction already has decades of data behind it.
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