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Government announces ban on artificial cannabis

Aug 10th, 2011 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

THE Government has finally announced the first temporary ban on artificial cannabis products, timed to start on Wednesday.

This follows a NewsWire story earlier this week saying the product sellers were confused about when any ban would start.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne yesterday announced that he has issued the first temporary class drug notice under the Misuse of Drugs Act that was amended last week, and that all Kronic and other synthetic cannabis products will be off the market by next Wednesday.

 “The first temporary class drug notice is being gazetted today,” he said in a statement.

“The seven-day period until it takes effect begins today.

“These products are untested as demonstrated by two recent recalls, and suppliers cannot experiment on our youth,” he said.

The 12-month notice lists 16 synthetic cannabis-like substances and makes them the equivalent of Class C1 drugs, thus making it illegal to manufacture, import, export, sell or supply the substances, or any product containing them from Wednesday, August 16.

Mixes of these particular substances occur in all 43 synthetic cannabis and Kronic products currently on the market.

During the next 12 months, the listed substances will be assessed by an expert committee, which will advise whether long-term controls should be placed on them.


STAFF and the owner of one of Wellington’s biggest Kronic outlets says they are confused about the newly passed ban on their artificial cannabis products.

 “The ban hasn’t come through yet,” says Mark Carswell, owner of the newly opened Cuba Mall premises of Cosmic Corner.

“No, they’ve given no indication at this stage. We’re still waiting to hear,” he says of the law that went through Parliament last Thursday.

“Maybe, I think they said seven days from when they announce it, but they haven’t announced it. We’re still waiting to get word from anyone.”

He declined to comment on the law change, or on how sales have been going since the Prime Minister announced his Government’s intentions on August 1.

His staff say they are unclear whether last sales can be this Thursday or this Friday.

Meantime, the new law’s chief promoter, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne, is arguing for public safety and deflecting criticism of his past record of voting against tobacco control.

Mr Dunne’s support of legislation banning 43 synthetic cannabis products has stirred debate over the safety of legal highs and Mr Dunne’s record of voting against tobacco control initiatives such as the 1997 Smokefree Environments Amendment Bill.

Mr Dunne was questioned during a live chat with New Zealand Herald readers on Friday, but maintained that health reports about cannabis and other drugs “persuade me [that] firm control measures are needed to protect the public health”.

In an interview with NewsWire, he said: “To simply say ‘Well, you can’t prove they’re not safe, therefore you should allow them to be sold,’ I think is a highly risky strategy.”

The claim that sellers are well-informed about the substances in legal highs is “highly debatable… particularly when we’ve had two products already shown to contain substances that were illegal, which the suppliers and manufacturers denied were ever in them.

“We simply want to make sure that anything that goes onto the market is clearly designated as safe before it goes anywhere near, not just young people, but anybody.”

Prior to the ban going through Parliament, Mark Carswell told NewsWire the government is unable to prove that legal highs are unsafe.

“Of course there is no harm – people have a smoke, they get a little bit high, they come down, they feel okay and they carry on with their life.”

He says legal highs are a lot like cannabis, which is “made illegal not for reasons of health issues.

“The liquor barons don’t like to have competition, and cigarette barons don’t like to have competition, and there’s a whole raft of other people out there who don’t want cannabis to be legal.”

The public safety argument could be made for cigarettes, alcohol and even Coca-Cola, he says.

“If we’re going to be proving the safety of our products, I’d like to see [the makers of] those products prove their safety as well.”

In response, Mr Dunne says the idea that legal highs have been banned to help the tobacco or alcohol industries would be a “fanciful interpretation” of the new legislation.

“I’ve had no representations from either tobacco interests or alcohol interests or anyone of that nature saying ‘Oi, get these things off the market, they’re bad for our business’.”

Taking legal highs off the shelves is not about dampening down youth culture, he says.

“Good God, if youth culture depends on your ability to smoke Kronic, then I think we’re in a pretty sad state of affairs – and I don’t think it does at all.”


FAR from retreating in the face of controversy, legal highs retailer Cosmic Corner is opening new headquarters on Cuba Mall that is several times larger than its previous location.

The new shop opening this week – which includes more retail space, a coffee shop and a stage for live music – shows that alternative culture and the legal highs industry are part of New Zealand’s identity, says owner Mark Carswell (above left).

“Through the media and perhaps what’s shown through the news, Cosmic isn’t necessarily shown in the best light,” he says.

“But when you talk to the average person on the street and especially youth, [they] love it. They dig it, because it represents who they are.”

The opening takes place amid public debate over legal highs after Environmental Science and Research questioned the safety of synthetic cannabis.

Earlier this month two of Cosmic Corner’s products, Kronic Pineapple Express and Juicy Puff Super Strength, were recalled by the Ministry of Health after ERS found the products contained prescription medicine phenazepam.

Mr Carswell says he takes little notice of the media attention: “I know that they have an agenda. It’s to sell newspapers or to sell TV ratings or whatever it might be.”

The most important thing is that he and his staff feel confident, safe and good about what they do.

“We have our own moral compass, if you will.

BIGGER HIGH: The sandwich board outside Cosmic Corner's old Cuba St premises.

“We of course need to stay within the law. It isn’t to say I agree with exactly everything the law says, but we do try our utmost to stay within the law and we’ll always do that.”

That includes a voluntary R18 classification on all legal high products in the store.

“We’ve been operating for 14 and a half years now. We sold legal highs from day one, and they have always been R18.”

He says he and his staff are “pretty well au fait” with the substances in each product, and provide customers with information and advice on dosages and effects.

The government’s inability to prove that legal highs are unsafe is the main cause of the controversy, he says.

“They kind of throw their hands up in the air because the media are putting pressure on them. So they go ‘Well, you guys prove it’s safe, then!’”

He says the success of Cosmic Corner is a gauge of how many people in New Zealand enjoy legal highs and the culture around them.

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