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Drug debate fires up

Residents of Winton are fighting to keep legal highs from being sold in Southland after a draft local approved products policy was released last week.

The Invercargill City Council, and Gore and Southland district councils drafted a combined policy in compliance with the Psychoactive Substances Act, passed last year and allowing territorial authorities to regulate where legal highs can be sold.

The councils have earmarked the main streets of Invercargill, Gore, Winton, and Te Anau as permitted locations, with this decision open to public submissions until April 14.

Winton local Rachel Cummings circulated a petition last week to ban the substances outright that is now approaching 2000 signatures.

“For legal highs to be made readily available in our local community, the government has failed us,” she said.

In response to the petition feedback, a public meeting in Winton’s Salvation Army Hall has been organised for Tuesday March 25 at 7.30pm.

Winton community support worker Louise Faithful has organised the meeting and said many people didn’t understand what legal highs were, how they affected people, or even what they looked like.

“What I’m hoping to do is to educate and inform the people in our community so they can make an informed submission,” she said.

Speakers would include councillors and council staff, police, paramedics, and members of families affected by drug use, Ms Faithful said.

Winton Community Board chairman John ‘Chub’ McHugh said he was amazed that Winton and Te Anau had been chosen by the councils.

“I’m a little disappointed that there wasn’t more public consultation,” he said. “The council looked at Winton and Te Anau because they weren’t in the low socio-economic bracket.”

But people from other towns wouldn’t hesitate to travel given no other options, and restrictions on location wouldn’t stop businesses from being established, he said.

“[The act] is going to make it reasonably difficult to find a shop that fits the criteria, but in this day and age with buildings vacant, landlords are looking for tenants that pay rent and not necessarily at what they are doing.”

Currently there are no licences approved or pending to sell legal highs in Winton or Te Anau, and no new licenses can be granted until at least the middle of next year.

Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority manager Donald Hannah said banning products outright had been shown to drive profits to a black market, boost crime and increase personal risk for users.

The government could only ban substances that had been proven harmful, a process that took over a month for each product, and wasted resources while manufacturers profited in the interim, he said.

“[Under the new act], profits are taxed and the onus is on manufacturers and suppliers to demonstrate their products are safely manufactured, clinically tested, and shown to be of low risk of harm before they can be approved for sale.”

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