This week the New Zealand government will publish its Psychoactive Drugs Bill. Under the new regulations proposed in the bill, “legal highs” would have to undergo an approval process before being brought to market. The New Zealand Ministry of Health would then issue licenses relating to the importation, manufacture, and sale of psychoactive substances covered by the bill. This process would place the burden on the synthetic drug industry, which would have to prove its products are safe before being made available to the consumer.
“The new law is a response to the problem of “legal highs”, but is being seized upon by reformers because it crosses a Rubicon – designing a legislative framework built upon regulation rather than prohibition.”
Therein lies the significance of this bill – it is a response to a drug-related issue that uses regulation rather than prohibition as the method of control. Instead of simply issuing criminal bans on emerging drugs, a method that has proven a failure time and time again, New Zealand is choosing to shift the focus to protecting public health.
Rather than allowing these substances to be controlled by the criminal element, they will instead exist within a regulated market. Beyond health considerations, a variety of restrictions will apply to the drugs, such as hefty fines and jail time for any manufacturer caught selling their products to minors.
This bill presents a timely and thoughtful solution to a rapidly emerging problem. In 2012, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drugs Addiction reported that a new “legal high” goes on sale every week.
Thus far, The Canadian government’s response to the phenomenon of “legal highs” has been a traditional approach of banning a substance when the media brings it to the public’s attention, as was the case with the great MDPV (aka Bath Salts) scare of 2012.
Last September, after the federal government proposed that MDPV be included in Schedule I of the Controlled Drugs and Substances act, we issued a submission to Health Canada recommending that banning the substance would have unintended negative effects and that the government should regulate, rather than criminalize its use.
The CDPC is optimistic about New Zealand’s Psychoactive Drug Bill as it is line with a greater paradigm shift occurring in many countries around the world. Leaving the control of drugs and drug quality in the hands of criminals protects no one and creates a litany of disastrous side effects. We look forward to seeing the bill implemented in the near future.
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