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News (Media Awareness Project) - New Zealand: Designer Drugs A Cat-and-mouse Game
Title:New Zealand: Designer Drugs A Cat-and-mouse Game
Published On:2011-07-16
Source:New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Fetched On:2011-07-16 06:01:52

Take another look at your humble corner dairy - it's on the frontier
of a new world of designer drugs, and a telling symbol of how
governments worldwide have been left scrambling to adapt.

New Zealanders can now pick up recreational drugs such as Kronic with
their milk and bread, not because of liberal drug policy but because
of a legislative loophole.

Although cannabis has long been illegal, the synthetic cannabinoid
compounds that mimic its effects when smoked have - by the
Government's own admission - caught it off guard.

Legally imported into New Zealand from countries such as China, the
chemicals are dissolved and sprayed on to plant materials before
being sold on to the public.

Synthetic cannabis has been made and sold in New Zealand for about 10
years, but the R18 products' use and sale were comparatively low-key
until recently.

Chris Fowlie, co-owner of the Hemp Store in Central Auckland, said
the long-term labelling of synthetic cannabis as "herbal incense"
reflected the industry's initial caution.

"On one hand people could say that's not telling people the truth.
Everyone knew they were for smoking. But by giving it another name it
meant that it wasn't blatant."

But that approach changed when Lightyears Ahead, the company behind
Kronic, realised there was no need to be coy, given the legality of
its product, he said.

Shop-fronts were soon plastered with posters advertising Kronic,
pre-rolled joints sold and synthetic cannabis adverts ran on
mainstream radio stations such as The Edge.

"The result of that has been that it has annoyed a lot of people. It
has been a little too blatant for a lot of people," Mr Fowlie said.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne counted himself as annoyed.

Media have labelled him "Dunne-nothing" after he opted against
banning the products following a report by the Expert Advisory
Committee on Drugs (EACD) in March.

With scientists still in the dark about the health effects of the
products, Mr Dunne told the Herald at the time that any ban risked
being overturned in court.

Instead, he enacted legislation to restrict the advertising and sale
of the products. It's due to come into effect next month.

Mr Dunne has also vocally backed a Law Commission recommendation to
make firms gain permission before selling synthetic drugs as a
long-term solution.

The would-be seller would have to prove the drugs were safe. Such
products can now be sold unless they are proven harmful.

The recommendation has near universal support - but because of
legislative restrictions and November's election, the Government will
not consider it until next year.

Until then, each news item on synthetic cannabis has left Mr Dunne
fending off accusations of inaction.

That pressure came to a head early this month when screening by
Environmental Science and Research (ESR) revealed two synthetic
cannabis products illegally contained a prescription sedative.

Some critics say the Government should simply ban the drugs. Last
week, eight of the most popular synthetic cannabis products were
banned across Australia after action from the Federal Government.

Other countries such as the United States have also banned products
outright. Mr Dunne said such moves weren't a solution as it "would
work for five minutes until [Kronic maker] Matt Bowden's chemist
comes up with his next concoction".

"We are dealing with a particularly dubious industry and there are
many ways to get it wrong and you end up repenting at leisure.

"Fast law in this case would be bad law, and bad law results in
loopholes wide enough to drive trucks full of Kronic through."

Dr Keith Bedford, general manager (forensic) at ESR, confirmed any
cannabinoids placed on a banned list could be replaced by new versions.

"It's basically cat-and-mouse ... We're always just one step behind
something that's been introduced."

Mr Fowlie agreed: "America banned theirs at the end of last year; the
exact same brands are still available. They just reformulated them."

But Massey University senior researcher Chris Wilkins said stamping
out versions of the legal highs was still worthwhile.

He suggested to the Law Commission that manufacturers should be made
to prove the safety of their products, but he said other action could
be taken in the meantime.

"They're always going to come back, but that's part of the battle.
It's not going to be easy, but what's the alternative?"

Dr Wilkins said 49 per cent of men aged 20 to 24 had used BZP-based
party pills in 2006, but since their ban, take-up of legal substitute
versions had been minimal.

He said that while more research was needed to determine to what
extent the ban led to more Ecstasy use, "it's just as plausible that
people don't substitute between drugs, they just combine them".

Controlled drugs are normally listed by a specific chemical structure or name.

But New Zealand's analogue drug legislation allows for chemicals that
are structurally similar to those controlled to be treated in the same manner.

Dr Wilkins said if the Government banned the 11 cannabinoids
identified in ESR screening, manufacturers would at least be forced
to find entirely new cannabinoids.

However, those in the industry such as Mr Fowlie maintain the
emergence of designer drugs will force governments around the world
to reassess what they call failed drug policies.

"These products would not be around if cannabis was legal ... and
that shows if you ban these products, you're not going to get rid of
the demand," Mr Fowlie said.

"Many of these cannabinoids have been developed specifically so
they're not analogues of the other ones ... Theoretically there are
thousands that could be developed."

This week, Mr Dunne announced in Parliament his intention to
introduce urgent amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill by
way of supplementary order paper.

He said the measures would clampdown on the "irresponsible" industry
until the Law Commission recommendations could be adopted.

However, Mr Dunne has as yet refused to explain what the latest
amendments will actually mean.

He has consistently hailed the Law Commission recommendations as a
long-term solution to synthetic drugs, but their introduction could
open another can of worms.

Mr Dunne, Prime Minister John Key, industry insiders such as Mr
Bowden and Mr Fowlie and scientists such as Dr Bedford and Dr Wilkins
have all backed the recommendation.

It's a diverse bunch that demonstrates how widely people's
interpretations can differ on the "safety" threshold products like
Kronic would have to meet.

Dr Bedford said that while the risks and benefits of products like
paracetamol were evaluated before they could be sold, doing so for
recreational drugs was more difficult.

He said while alcohol and tobacco were sold, if they were new
substances being introduced into society they would likely fail a
similar evaluation.
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