NZPA | Friday, 13 April 2007
A Christchurch shop owner has been prosecuted by the Ministry of Health for having canisters of the party gas nitrous oxide for sale.
Tony Dexter Valentine, part-owner of The Cell in Manchester Street, central Christchurch, today admitted the charge of possessing a prescription medicine for sale, when he appeared in Christchurch District Court.
Judge John Bisphan remanded him to a crown sentencing session on May 9, when he is due for sentence on other charges. He is already being held in custody and did not seek bail today.
The ministry's prosecutor, Zannah Johnston, told the court nitrous oxide, known as NOS, had been a prescription-only medicine under the Medicines Regulations since 2000.
Nitrous oxide bulbs, ostensibly for use in whipped cream dispensers, had been sold in New Zealand for years. Vendors sold it for recreational intoxication by inhalation, or "huffing".
"Whipped cream dispensers are often used as `crackers' – a device used to extract the gas from the metal bulbs in order to fill balloons with nitrous oxide. The gas in the balloon is then inhaled to give a temporary period of intoxication and anaesthesia. Most of the vendors who sell nitrous oxide for this purpose are also in the business of selling products general known as `legal highs' or `party pills'," Miss Johnston said.
In April 2000, following increasing concern from the community over the misuse of nitrous oxide as a recreational drug, the ministry issued a warning to retailers and the public that sale, and use, of nitrous oxide for recreational intoxication was unlawful.
There was considerable publicity, and warning letters were sent to all known or suspected suppliers. The Cell was given written and oral warnings against the sale of nitrous oxide.
The premises were part-owned by Valentine, who stated on July 29, 2005, that he would continue to sell nitrous oxide and was happy to face prosecution.
A search warrant executed at The Cell on August 31, 2005, found NOS for sale.
Valentine told the officials: "I've just had a container of canisters arrive this week."
The officials asked him where it was, but he replied: "Do you think I'm going to tell you so you can take half a million dollars worth of cream canisters?"
He also said he was expecting a second container from China and Taiwan in the next week.
A shop assistant said NOS was sold for $17.95 a box.