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‘Law is wrong’

Concerned residents of Winton turned out in the hundreds on Tuesday night to hear information and question officials on southern councils’ combined policy on legal highs.

The meeting at the Salvation Army Hall was organised because of strong resistance to a proposed Local Approved Products Policy that would designate Winton as one of four places in Southland where legal highs could be sold.

Southland District Council group manager environment and community Bruce Halligan said the council didn’t support legal highs but had a limited range of powers available to address them.

“We can’t prohibit these substances, we don’t have that legal power available to us,” he said. “But if we have no LAPP, we have no control over the number of retailers in the area. We couldn’t stop them setting up right next to schools or churches or kindergartens.”

Former paramedic Wayne Harper said legal highs were some of the most malign things he’d seen in his career.

“The law is wrong,” he said. ‘Without you people digging your toes in we’re never going to be able to change anything.”

For a government to authorise sales of these products was ludicrous, and keeping it out of communities would require more than compliance with legislation, Mr Harper said.

“Submissions and talking like this is going to go nowhere.”

“I’ve seen people from total withdrawal to almost committing suicide. But it doesn’t stop there. These individuals that start using these products tend to drag their whole families in with them,” he said.

Adventure Development Counselling psychologist Clive McArthur said the term synthetic cannabis was something of a misnomer.

“I’m not so happy with that term anymore because it doesn’t work like cannabis,” he said. “You get high really quick and then the high drops off quicker than it does with cannabis.”

This kind of high put the products closer to amphetamines, and was a hallmark of substances that could very easily become addictive, Mr McArthur said.

“We know that people are stealing to keep a habit going,” he said. “Waking up in the middle of the night to have another hit, that’s very common.”

Every single young person in the care of Adventure Development had a problem with legal highs, Mr McArthur said.

“Three or four years ago that wasn’t the case. This was not on the radar, now every young person in our service is either dabbling or has a serious issue.”

Winton Wallacetown ward councillor Lyall Bailey said he reluctantly supported the LAPP policy.

“Any control is better than no control,” he said.

A close eye should be kept on other regions around the country for ideas on how to curb the establishment of businesses selling legal highs, Mr Bailey said.

“We can’t legally make it impossible but I believe we can make it extremely difficult to do.”

At the conclusion of the meeting the floor was opened to comment from the audience, and suggestions were raised including stiff taxes and licensing fees, sending a delegation of residents to parliament, and encouraging attendance at nationwide protests on April 5.

Mothers and grandmothers also took the opportunity to share their experiences with legal highs and the toll taken on their family lives.

Public sentiment at the meeting was that anyone trying to set up a business to sell legal highs in Winton would be met with fierce opposition.

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