Pubdate: Tue, 28 May 2013
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2013 New Zealand Herald


Others Watching to See If NZ Law Has Desired Result.

New Zealand once prided itself on being a "social laboratory" for 
advances in public welfare. Within a few months it will become a 
laboratory in every sense: for the approval of new recreational 
drugs. Other countries are taking a close interest in Associate 
Health Minister Peter Dunne's proposed licensing system for synthetic 
psychoactive substances, as Mr Dunne found when he addressed a United 
Nations Drug Convention in Vienna recently. Drug researcher Chris 
Wilkins told the Weekend Herald he found the same interest at a drug 
policy conference in Bogota, Colombia last week.

Neither Mr Dunne nor Dr Wilkins relishes the idea that New Zealand 
could be the first legal, regulated market for recreational drugs 
thanks to the Psychoactive Substances Bill before Parliament. The 
bill's purpose is to put a stop to present sales of untested, 
unregulated party drugs. It will require them to be proven safe 
before they can be put on sale and the regulators probably would not 
mind very much if their testing regime proves prohibitive.

It will certainly be expensive. The Weekend Herald reported that it 
will cost manufacturers $180,000 just to apply for a drug's approval 
and perhaps $1 million or $2 million for clinical trials that are 
expected to take one to two years.

If they pass the tests, which will include human use, their sale will 
be restricted to licensed outlets. Dairies, service stations and 
grocery stores will not be able to stock them.

But New Zealanders need to be prepared for the possibility that the 
time, expense and rigour of the testing regime might not be 
prohibitive. The industry is said to be excited by the possibility of 
legal recognition. One manufacturer told Parliament's select 
committee his company plans a new plant to meet the bill's 
requirements. Dr Wilkins urged caution; no other country, he said, 
has gone this far.

Campaigners for the legalisation of cannabis must be watching with 
interest. While the law would apply only to synthetic equivalents, it 
might be hard to deny the same tests to naturally grown leaf.

But for regulators the "elephant in the room" is said to be not 
cannabis but alcohol. The Ministry of Health might set the safety 
standards for psychoactive substances so high that liquor would not 
meet them. If that is so, they would be too high, for alcohol can be 
used responsibly. If a party drug is found to be no more damaging 
than moderate consumption of beer or wine, in fairness it should be 
classified safe.

But if just one tablet can produce the effects that doctors in 
emergency rooms have described, the drug is not safe. If those 
effects are the result of excessive consumption, well beyond the 
manufacturer's advice, the regulators' task is more difficult. 
Consumers of party pills are predominantly young, unlike consumers of 
alcohol. It will be harder to base the law on reasonable and 
responsible use but alcohol should be the benchmark.

Under the bill party drugs approved for sale will face the same age 
restriction as alcohol (no sales to under-18s) and advertising would 
be permitted only at the place of sale. The labels would need to list 
every ingredient and contain a phone number for the National Poisons centre.

It will be a welcome improvement on the present law under which any 
new recreational drug can be sold until the authorities ban it. The 
bill is expected to pass by August but may be enacted sooner to get 
rid of those that have come on to the market while they still can. In 
a year or two we will see whether we have become the first place to 
legalise psychoactive drugs for fun.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom