New Zealand Psychoactive Substance Bill

New Zealand is taking a new radical approach to legal highs. The new psychoactive substance bill has been of much talk over the past months and the new select committee has finally released their edited version of the bill that is to be implemented this August.

At the moment there is a temporary ban on these substances, but there is no way to regulate or control them. All that will change in New Zealand whom have been busy working on the bill designed to target the revolutionary designer drugs specifically, aiming to reduce harm to the individual.

The bill has banned all designer drugs unless they are proven to be of low health risk. The drugs will be tested similarly to how new medicines are tested for safety. Testing/research will be paid for by the companies, and will cost (NZD)$180,000 for a drug approval and a further $1-$2 million for clinical trials.

The Authority (the director-general of health) shall have the power to give licences to those whom apply for the importation, manufacturing, research, and sale of both unapproved and approved products. Licences are valid for three years at most.

Offences made by those whom hold a licence is liable to imprisonment for up to 3 months and/or a fine of $500,000. Those without a licence can face imprisonment of up to two years or if committed by a body corporate, a fine of $500,000.

Approved products shall be limited to sell in licensed shops only. They cannot be sold in any of the following: dairy shops, grocery stores, gas stations/garages, shops without a permanent structure (vehicle stores, tents, etc.) or anywhere that alcohol is also sold.

Approved products will not be permitted to advertise anywhere but the inside of licenced outlets and even then, advertisements must be limited. Packaging of products must also be minimal, without any dangers of appealing to minors.

The Authority decided against putting the age for purchase up to 20 or 21 as it may give the false impression that alcohol or tobacco are safer alternatives for which the legal age is 18.

Overall, there is a great amount of public support for this new bill which has been fast tracked on two separate occasions. However there have been a number of issues that have been brought up.

Firstly, the bill does not prohibit animal testing as it is beyond the scope of what the bill is aiming to achieve, and the Expert Advisory Committee believes that in order to ensure the safety of these drugs, this should not change. The Green Party is extremely unsatisfied by this as there are a number of alternatives at every stage of pre-clinical testing.

Another issue raised was that this bill will create the first ever regulated designer drug market, and although the Authority accepts this premise, the current system of prohibition is failing, and as a result something new has to be done.

The moral outlook on this law was to reduce risk to individuals that consume these drugs. If this is true, why does New Zealand not try to regulate and reduce the risk of more traditional drugs? Remove the problem of synthetic cannabis by regulating real cannabis, which still remains illegal under New Zealand law, or with the issue of party pills, maybe try to regulate clean MDMA?

A local TV show named the vote showed a vast amount of support (72% said yes, and 28% no) when asked if soft drugs, i.e. cannabis and synthetic cannabis should be decriminalised. Does this show greater amount of support than the government realises? It is fair to say however, that this new bill is most definitely an improvement from what is currently being implemented.