Psychoactive Substances Act is your friend


I was frustrated to see the article ‘Families demand scrapping of legal-high laws’ in the Herald. I was frustrated for a couple of reasons.

I was frustrated, no that’s not the right word, I was heart-broken for the families describing the pain of watching the lives of their loved ones being torn apart by hideous chemical concoctions. I had a taster of that pain, on the minutest-scale by comparison, when a friend had a breakdown (though I’m not sure really what the right word for it was) after using Kronic about a year ago. He is fine now and I am forever grateful that that episode did not have a worse outcome. At the time though, I cried and felt ill with fear and fury that the ‘bastard(s)’ as Hone called them could be making money off a product which caused such vast pain and suffering.

But I was also frustrated because taking these products off the market, as 92% of Herald readers are demanding is actually not going to make the situation better.

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It won’t undo the damage done to Una Macnaughtan’s son and others, though I seriously wish there was a solution as straight-forward.

It also won’t decrease their availability, much like prohibition didn’t decrease the availability of alcohol, much like the Misuse of Drugs Act doesn’t decrease the availability of Marijuana. It will simply recreate an unregulated and much more dangerous black market.

I am also frustrated that the purpose of this legislation as been so poorly explained that those who should be most relieved by its existence are protesting against it.

There seems to be some confusion in the article and in general about the state of the legislation and regulatory regime. So quick factsfor those not up do date:

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  • The Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 passed on 18th July 2013
  • The Psychoactive Substances Regulations have not yet been completed, submissions on these closed 21st April 2014
  • In the interim there is a Risk Assessment Framework which is applied to all substances before licenses are awarded
  • All products, retailers and manufacturers must not be licensed
  • An estimated 3000-4000 retail outlets has decreased to less than 170 licensed premises
  • An estimated 200 products has decreased to 41, 12 licenses were turned down. That means the majority of products weren’t even put forward for licensing

This is a crack-down. This is not a free for all.

It can be expected that once the regulations are finalised and there is an agreed-upon testing scheme, this number may even decrease further. Furthermore, if further evidence is raised to show a previously approved product is actually unsafe, its license can be revoked.

The 92% of Herald readers who think that ‘these products do more harm than good’ need to know that ‘these products’ is a meaningless term. They can not all be grouped as having equal risks of harm. This is not to say any of these product are safe, and they are not actually allowed to market themselves as such, but some of them can fairly be labelled low risk.

This legislation is a step in the right direction. A step towards a rational model based on science, which makes decision based on risk of harm assessments. If anything, we need this model to go further. Drugs categorised under the Misuse of Drugs Act aren’t able to be assessed under the Psychoactive Substances Act, though Marijiuana would likely have a high chance of getting through. AND if it were legal, we wouldn’t be having a conversation about Kronic at all would we? There is a deep and tragic irony that many of these substances exist because other potentially less dangerous versions of themselves are illegal.

For the record, I am someone who has never used any of these substances. My position is not motivated by a personal desire for easy access. It’s motivated by not wanting to see more harm done by immoral cowboys working in legal grey-areas and profiting off human suffering. This is the best way to achieve that.


  1. It’s time (but highly unlikely) for everyone to face the truth that humans have a need to alter their consciousness and are doing it all the time through one means or another. Some examples include non legal drugs, prescription medication, meditation, violent movies and games, and relationships (the deadliest of all for women). Each of our consciousness is going through alterations in its state of awareness every moment of every day. The demand for one section of society that everyone else conform to its idea of what is normal is just a form of fascism.

  2. Once again, an article on this subject misses the point.

    Everybody agrees that these substances aren’t very good for people, and that their sale needs to be regulated on public health grounds. The same goes for alcohol, and for cigarettes.

    The problem is that reducing the number of outlets has had the unfortunate consequence of concentrating anti-social behaviour caused by drug use into a few areas, externalising all sorts of costs and harms on people who happen to live or work nearby.

    Do you think it is fine that a local government agency has had to hire a security guard in order to protect its workers – particularly female workers – from aggressive harassment including sexual harassment? That is what recently happened in Hamilton East.

    Yes, everyone can agree that the government doesn’t do a very good job of dealing with drug addicts and the mentally ill, but that doesn’t make it acceptable for them to be allowed to take over areas of town and make it unpleasant for everyone else.

    A local gallery I shop at is run by this nice immigrant family. They haven’t done anything wrong, but the shop a few doors down selling legal highs means that the bus stop near the gallery is a no go for most people now and the alley on to which their front door opens has become an open air toilet. Why should anyone have to put up with that shit just so some porn merchant can make money selling weed?

    Until retailers of legal highs can find some way to stop the negative externalities their business imposes on everyone else, they should not be permitted to exist.

    In the end, the rest of society should not have to put up with aggressive begging, street harassment and public defecation just so that a few people can be marginally safer in using a product that is already harmful. If you think that women have a right to walk the street without being the victims of street harassment, why should this not be the case for everyone else?

    The government’s policy is a bad one because it exacerbates social harms. Hamilton City Council was right to crack down on the shops because they were pissing off the whole city except for the shop owners and the users. We don’t have the same problems with alcohol sales, because that policy actually works.

    • They have been puking and pissing in Hamilton streets as far back as I can remember and way before legal highs.

    • There is no “permit” for existence. This shit exists, and will continue to do so. Sure, if the store near your gallery can’t sell it, it will move underground. So some other area will have to face these problems, as well as the criminal element which will now be associated with them.
      People are tragically naive when it comes to awareness of how little control we can exert over the actions of others.

  3. Are you *entirely* sure that illegalizing these synthetic highs “won’t decrease their availability”…? Have you got any good evidence for this?

    Not entirely sure the prohibition analogy holds, either – you can’t just whip up JWH-018 in a back-woods whiskey still, home-garage chemistry lab, or grow it wild in a field somewhere.

  4. LadyMac:
    >> Marijiuana would likely have a high chance of getting through. AND if it were legal, we wouldn’t be having a conversation about Kronic at all would we? <<

    This hits the nail on the head. All the harm done by the novel "legal highs" created to sidestep prohibition are the direct result of decades of politicians refusing to legalize cannabis, MDMA and LSD. Shame on those politicians. I will not vote for any party which does not have a policy to end prohibition, and replace it with compassionate, evidence-based drug policy which treats us as adults who are entitled to make our own decisions about our bodies and our consciousness. At this point, that means the only party I could vote for is the Libertarianz, a prospect so horrifying that I'll probably not be voting in this election.

    • The Greens want to see marijuana decriminalised, and Mana should be following that soon as well.
      However, both of those parties have not, and will not, push for the decriminalisation of MDMA, LSD, mushrooms and other non-addictive substances in the foreseeable future.
      I agree with you Danyl that all of those substances should be decriminalised, but it ain’t gonna happen in one big step. It will have to be a step by step process of marijuana first, then evidence that decriminalisation works in NZ, then onto other substances.
      Suggesting that it must be all, or you’re not giving them your vote is problematic under our system – it simply reinforces the status quo.
      A more compassionate drugs policy is something NZ should work towards, but achieving that will only happen over time. The first step is decriminalisation of marijuana, more funding for rehabilitation, and trustworthy education about drug use.

  5. i wd just like to confirm yr statement that if cannabis were legalised/regulated/taxed..

    ..we wd have no ‘legal-highs’ problems..

    ..this was confirmed by the recent ‘expert-visitor’ in this area..

    ..he noted that in colorado/washington ..where pot is legal/regulated/tax..

    ..there is no demand for these vile chemical concoctions..

    phillip ure..

  6. I don’t think moderate use of most drugs, and that includes class A drugs is damaging. But addiction is a condition that can develop around any drug, that includes most prescription medicines. If you need a certain pill for your heart daily, that is still an addiction, it is just the social acceptability of the drug that is different.

    People will always take drugs to alter their mental states, it is the availability that is the main issue. Alcohol misuse is more prevalent because you can buy it legally and not got to jail for having it, value judgements about it are irrelevant.

    Personally I am disgusted at the availability of synthetic cannabis, it is anecdotally much worse than natural cannabis, there is no way it is non harmful. I have seen a number of seizures induced by the legal stuff, and have never seen illegal marijuana cause a seizure ( in my experience only ,admittedly it has probably happened some where, but not in front of me or anyone I know).

    Bottom line decriminalize marijuana, but don’t make it legal to grow or sell, the hypocrisy of the current situation is natural marijuana is much less harmful. The legal synthetic cannabis needs to go. The current government could have done it in a heart beat if they wanted to. The current state of affairs is gutless and appalling.

  7. >> Marijiuana would likely have a high chance of getting through. AND if it were legal, we wouldn’t be having a conversation about Kronic at all would we? <<

    As a seller of legal highs I noticed a huge increase in cannabis users switching to legal highs once urine drug testing went mainstream. Switch to saliva drug testing and most of these people would swap back to healthier natural cannabis. They are only trying to keep their jobs and avoid being punished for what they do on their time off.

    For legal high users not getting tested, most use the legal highs to avoid the black market, so yes, legalizing natural cannabis would eliminate the need for legal highs.

    So why not make Cannabis legal and switch workplace drug testing from urine to saliva? Problem solved.

  8. I am absolutely sick of the fact that politicians refuse to take this issue seriously. They are still more focused on the war on cannabis than they are on getting rid of the far worse effects of synthetics. The level of stupidity being exercised by our government is more disturbing than usual.

  9. My personal veiw is there should be a total ban on legal highs.Seeing the kids that are getting wired into this stuff, is like watching a episode of The Walking Dead, with the zombies without make up.

    Also aside from the obvious mental health damage, this stuff icreases the appetite incredibly that could lead eventualy to heavy users suffering from obesity.

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