Prime Minister John Key says leaving some synthetic drugs
on the market was "a mistake" and Government should have banned
all products until a rigorous testing regime was in place.
Mr Key also revealed that one of the reasons the Ministry of
Health-backed testing regime was not yet ready was because
Cabinet was uncomfortable about the regime's proposed testing
The Prime Minister said he did not believe the decision to
remove the remaining 41 drugs from sale - after giving them
temporary approval - was a U-turn.
"What I'm prepared to admit is ... in hindsight, we probably
should have taken the ultra-conservative view and said 'no,
we'll get rid of the whole lot in one go'."
When the Psychoactive Substances Bill passed last year, it
cut the number of retail outlets from 4000 to around 150.
Mr Key said this had the perverse effect of concentrating the
problems related to the drugs to one or two outlets in
"The number of products went down, the number of shops that
could sell them dramatically reduced; in fact it just
highlighted the issue in these kind of places."
He rejected a call from New Zealand First for Associate
Health Minister Peter Dunne to resign, saying Mr Dunne had
shepherded in legislation which was still "totally valid".
Mr Key said there was some debate about whether the 41
remaining products were responsible for the health problems
that were being observed.
He said some illegal substances may have been repackaged for
sale, and some addicts may have been telling health officials
that they had been taking legal highs to avoid admitting to
"But in the end, I think we've got to have a clearer way
through this, and the clearer way through is to ban
everything, then make the manufacturers prove that there's no
He added: "That will be a long and very expensive process,
and if you want my view, I hope none of the products actually
Officials estimated that the testing regime would not be in
place for 12 to 18 months, after which time drug-makers would
still have to wait a long period for their product to get the
Asked why it was taking so long to put in place, Mr Key said
not all of the proposals for the regime were acceptable to
"I don't agree with the animals they want to test on."
The Prime Minister would not reveal which animals could be
tested on. He said some people were comfortable with testing
on rodents but not rabbits, and it was "a very vexed" issue.
Mr Key noted that testing on rodents did not find problems
with the highly controversial drug thalidomide, but testing
on rabbits may have picked up defects.
Animal testing was already used for pharmaceutical drugs, but
these were designed to save lives, not create drugs for
The Labour Party, which supports the Government's ban, would
block the use of any animal testing as part of the
psychoactive substances regime.
- Isaac Davison of the NZ Herald