Public to get chance to have say on legal highs policy

A public meeting to consider what controls the Queenstown Lakes District Council could have over legal highs will be held in Queenstown on Thursday and the subject will be part of a broader drug and alcohol forum to be held in Wanaka on June 18.

Queenstown Lakes district councillors Merv Aoake, Craig Ferguson, Ella Lawton and Cath Gilmour have organised the sessions to hear about the impact psychoactive substances have had on the community and find out what ability the council has to control them.

In Wanaka, the legal high discussion will take place within the first community forum of the Wanaka Alcohol Group (Wag), which will continue the conversation about alcohol and drugs in the community.

Speakers at both events will include the police, clinicians, QLDC and a former addict.

Cr Gilmour said there was no doubt psychoactive substances would be back on the streets in Queenstown and Wanaka, probably within a year.

''We're hearing from the agencies who take care of those suffering from addiction and withdrawal that if we don't have controls in place, then retailers forced out of other centres will be looking to stake a claim on what is perceived to be a very lucrative market here.''

While the law did not allow councils to place an outright ban on the sale of psychoactive substances approved for sale under the Government's testing and approval regime, there were lesser restrictions councils could impose - through a bylaw or a Local Approved Product Policy (Lapp) - that would prevent substances being sold, distributed or used in certain places.

However, it would take months to go through the legal process needed to put any such measures in place.

''If we can get a clear steer from the community that people want the council to put firm controls in place, then it's possible we could have a draft Lapp on the council agenda as early as next month.''

Wag spokeswoman Kathy Dedo said the Wanaka forum would involve group discussion about what drug and alcohol issues existed in the town and how they should be addressed.

The first public meeting is in the Mezzanine Meeting Room at the Queenstown Events Centre on Thursday, from 7pm to 9pm.

The joint forum with Wag is in the Armstrong Room of the Lake Wanaka Centre on Wednesday, June 18, from 7pm to 9pm.