Community rallies against legal high

A protest sign - ''legal but lethal, we say no, legal highs all must go''- was the message delivered to local and central government politicians at a Dunedin protest synthetic cannabis on Saturday.

About 100 people gathered in the Octagon to protest legal highs.

Concerned parent Wayne McFadyen, speaking at the protest, said his child had struggled with synthetic cannabis addiction and he wanted to challenge Prime Minister John Key to a boxing match and to give the purse to the psychiatric wards full of synthetic cannabis addicts.

''Get in a boxing ring with me.''

Another speaker at the Dunedin protest was Calvin Hooper, who protested outside Cosmic Corner in George St last week after his son was admitted to Wakari Hospital following synthetic cannabis use.

Ayla Espie (17), of Dunedin, speaking at the protest, said she was addicted to synthetic cannabis.

''I don't want to be on it any more. I get so sick of it, and when I don't have it, I don't sleep, I don't eat, I don't do anything. My body doesn't function.''

The crowd applauded when she declared her 26 hours of sobriety from synthetic cannabis and thanked her mother Maria Espie for caring for her as she was ''shaking and sweating'' from withdrawal symptoms.

Dunedin South MP Clare Curran said the Government ''bungled'' the Psychoactive Substances Act.

''It's got holes in it you can drive a truck through,'' she said.

A man in the crowd pointed a walking stick at Ms Curran and yelled ''It's your fault for voting for the legislation ...Where does your conscience lie? You put it on the street.''

Ms Curran said she voted for the legislation because she believed it would stop the sale of legal highs but the legislation had put the blame on city councils and the Government needed to amend the law.

Dunedin city councillor David Benson-Pope said Parliament had ''monumentally'' failed by voting in the legislation.

''The only politician who voted against it was John Banks and he only voted against it because it was tested on animals. I'm more worried about the testing on people and I think it is untenable for it to continue in our community.''

Protests were held in 23 centres from Whangarei to Invercargill. The protests were organised by Tokoroa mother Julie King via a Facebook event page, ''Aotearoa bans the sale and distribution of legal highs in our country''.

In Invercargill, about 170 people rallied against legal highs before marching through the central city and protesting outside the only licensed legal high shop in the CBD.

Emotions ran hot at the rally as more than a dozen speakers, many with first-hand experience of the effects of legal highs on themselves or family members, made it clear they wanted the Government to ban synthetic high products completely.

Labour Party candidate Lesley Soper, who last year participated in regular pickets of the city's herbal high outlets, urged those present to write to their MPs and local councillors making it clear they wanted all products banned.

Later in the afternoon, a small group protested outside the Impuls'd legal high shop in South Invercargill, which had a molotov cocktail thrown through its front window about 1am on Friday.

Although the shop had a closed sign in its front window, owner Warren Skill had a counter, till and stands at the back door so sales could continue.

This angered one protester, who said her 19-year-old son experienced psychotic and violent episodes while on legal highs and was stealing to pay for his next fix.

The arson had not even slowed Mr Skill down, the woman, who asked not to be named, to protect her son, said.

I was at the Saturday rally

I was at the Saturday rally and heard really good testimony from individuals and families who suffer badly from this rubbish.

It would have been great if we had been able to tell more people what this rubbish does to the human body, the users minds and the families of drug addicts.

It's absolute badness made into granules that people can smoke.

It is a substance that if you knew what it was and what it did to people you would see to it that you never made it, bought it, traded in it or used it in any way to gain a so called high or to make money.

As many speakers said, it's to make money out of others misery. No wonder people are being harmed and people who support them are getting so upset about the buying and selling of these legal but altogether dirty substances.

If you could think of something worse than heroin or crack cocaine (that is so popular in Hollywood) you would have to think of legal highs. With heroin you can get methadone and some get medical help with crack but there is no substitute for this filthy substance.

Mary Jane is not the answer, nor is alcohol - for it may well be that those who have become addicted to the filthy "highs" have now opened pathways in their brains and nervous systems to full addiction to other drugs. You would have to ask an expert. God help us all.

Regulation is anti Market

Opposed as I am to easy access to fast acting psychoactives, you make valid points. Regulation should apply to all consumer product, including health products. Anyone tried to buy a 'Coldrex'.? I would share some information broadcast on Mainland Television Nelson, last Saturday: the deleterious effects of Cannabis weed take hold after long term use. In comparison, Synthetic is immediate and overwhelming. Hospital staff are assaulted by acute sufferers, indicating synth promotes aggression. Finally, the Government windfall from import regulations around legal highs was 4 million dollars (period unknown. Source: studio interview, Nelson community group).

Legal highs protest

The 100 people attending the legal highs protest represent less than 1% of this city's population. If there were only 100 people in this city who use legal highs, the number of outlets would be far lower than it is, probably nil.

The protesters have the right to their opinions. If they don't like these substances, they are welcome to make a choice not to use them and encourage others not to use them. However, they want to take their distaste for legal highs a step further. They are trying to take the choice to use or not use legal highs away from everybody. They clearly feel the New Zealand public cannot responsibly handle using these substances and so instead of being treated like adults, they would prefer to treat everybody in this country like children who cannot make responsible choices and need to be told what's best for them.

The speeches given at this protest focused on what are clearly horror stories concerning specific individuals who have had extreme problems with legal highs. I know several people who use legal highs (and yes, I have used them myself) and one of the common factors in legal high horror stories is massive over-use of these substances. These stories are rather like talking about binge drinkers and alcoholics and then saying that everybody who drinks alcohol is on the path to having a problem and therefore alcohol should be banned. There is obviously some merit to this argument. There are a lot of people out there with drinking problems if you add them all up. Does that mean alcohol should be banned for everybody?

To put it in perspective, synthetic cannabis is sold in 2 or 2.5 gram bags. A moderate user who has a little in the weekends can go through a bag about every three weeks at a cost of about $20. The typical 'horror story' user can use four bags a day costing $80. So a heavy user could consume in four days as much as a moderate user might consume in a year. No wonder they have problems. If a moderate alcohol user was to try consuming a year's moderate drinking in four days, they would probably die of alcohol poisoning. To my knowledge nobody has yet actually died as a direct result of legal high consumption. You can't say that about alcohol.

We could focus on horror stories to paint any social issue in a bad light. There are horror stories to be found concerning gambling, religion, alcohol and other drugs both legal and illegal. I could make a good argument for banning just about anything based on someone's bad experience. However, as over forty years of an American led war on drugs has shown, the solution is never as simple as just hitting the banned button, even if so many people want a simple solution that they think will just make the problem go away. Whatever decision we make as a society, including banning will have consequences. Regulation gives as a chance to minimise those consequences. A ban simply throws it back into the 'too hard' basket and lets us pretend the problem is solved.

The mentality of the Ministry of Health

Last year in Princes Street we put a lot of effort in to trying to get the Ministry of Health to deny a licence to sell legal highs to a business that had recently been told by a district court judge that they couldn't have a liquor licence, but the Ministry of Health knew better.  I am now sitting opposite the old Lone Star, which lies between two legal high shops only a few doors each way, listening to hoiking and coughing coming from the young people smoking this crap,  It really doesn't sound like they enjoy it so I can only assume that they must be addicted to it.

When I spoke to the Ministry of Health about my disappointment with the granting of the licence, he told me that it was to the benefit of our young people, it was on a par with handing out condoms at schools.  I was flabbergasted and only thought after I had hung up that I should have retorted with, "It is more like positioning a cheap and accessible brothel (with a side door to let in underage children) outside school gates ".  If this is the attitude of those in charge of our health then there is little hope for us.


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