Considering legal highs

A shop displays a sign indicating it does not sell synthetic cannabis products. Photo by Peter...
A shop displays a sign indicating it does not sell synthetic cannabis products. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Tougher restrictions on shops selling legal highs could be coming to Otago, but not until after local body elections in October.

Associate Health Minister Todd McClay has written to councils across New Zealand, calling on them to use new powers granted under the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013.

The Act allows councils to create local rules to further control the sale of legal highs, including restricting the location and number of specialist stores selling psychoactive substances.

That could mean stores could be prohibited from operating in designated areas, such as near kindergartens, schools, in residential areas or next to other similar legal high shops.

In Otago, councils were already considering the new powers but were yet to decide what - if any - new restrictions would follow.

Dunedin City Council services and development general manager Sue Bidrose said councillors would be asked to decide if, or how, to make use of the new powers, but not until after local body elections.

Council staff were already ''coming to grips'' with the Act's new powers, and would present a report with options to councillors after October 12, Dr Bidrose said.

The public would also need to be consulted before any new policy or tougher restrictions were introduced, but councillors were already being lobbied by those calling for a crackdown, she said.

''We will be looking at it and we will be talking to some of our [other] councils around what they're doing, and then we will be looking to have a discussion with our new council.''

The Waitaki, Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes district councils expected to take the same approach, staff contacted yesterday confirmed.

Clutha District Council staff said they were not planning policy work relating to the legal high legislation. QLDC staff were studying where legal highs were being sold, but the Act's provisions were ''yet to be tested with elected members'', a spokeswoman said.

''It is reasonable to assume that they will have a view on behalf of our community and may well wish council to pursue a policy.''

Mr McClay said it was important communities had a say ''on the availability of synthetic drugs in their communities''.

''We have deliberately allowed communities the power to decide what areas in their towns and cities these products should not be available from, and it is important that councils are fully aware of the powers we have given them in this respect.''

He expected the new rules - together with additional pending legislation - would result in ''significantly fewer'' retailers and products being available.

-chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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