“Time for the Council to Act on Psychoactives”

A column by National minister Hon Michael Woodhouse, first published in The Star. While it is directed at the Dunedin City Council it could be applicable in other places.

Time for the Council to Act on Psychoactives

Last year Parliament overwhelmingly supported the passing of the Psychoactive Substances Act. This legislation is designed to ensure that so-called “legal highs” can only be sold following rigorous testing to ensure they are not harmful. This follows a number of high-profile hospital admissions, motor vehicle crashes and violent offenses by people under the influence of psychoactive substances.

In developing the legislation a transitional framework was put in place. It provides for the interim licensing of some products and sellers. The interim regime has resulted in the number of retailers nationally dropping from an estimated 3,000 – 4,000, to around 156, and the number of products available from an estimated 300, to 41. No new retail outlets are permitted until the interim period ends – expected to be mid-2015.

The Act also provides for local councils to implement a Locally Approved Product Policy (LAPP). Such a policy can regulate the location of premises from which products may be sold, including the minimum distance from other premises, for example kindergartens, schools, churches and health facilities.

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne was recently critical of Councils’ tardiness in putting LAPPs in place, stating “To say I have been disappointed by the response of the vast majority of local authorities to the Act is an understatement. Instead of getting on with developing and implementing LAPPs, the vast majority of local authorities opted instead to engage in media debate over the merits of the Psychoactive Substances Act, passed 119 – 1 by Parliament less than 8 months ago”. I agree with his comments.

It appears the Dunedin City Council is one of those slow to act in implementing a LAPP. It shouldn’t be. Parliament has given it a tool to restrict the location of licensed outlets. It needs to take that action.

The Hamilton City Council (having approved their LAPP earlier this year) recently suspended the interim retail licenses of all six psychoactive substance product retailers in the Hamilton area. The suppliers of these products, obviously upset at the action, have sought a judicial review of the decision. That is their right, but he hearing could take some time.  The Dunedin City Council should not slow its own work as a consequence of that action, or deviate from its responsibility to speedily implement its own LAPP, in order to reflect our community’s view that substances of this nature should be restricted in their availability.

I call on the Dunedin City Council to implement its LAPP quickly and suspend licenses of retailers operating outside the parameters of that policy.

Page 11 in Thursday, March 20, 2014 issue of The Star

Reaction to Dunne’s drug comments

Peter Dunne has provoked reactions with his new “thinking” on how we might deal with drugs – see Psychoactive Substances Act approach for other drugs? and NORML likes Peter Dunne’s new thinking.

Here are comments on Dunne’s blog post.

Julian Buchanan

So let’s start then by abandoning ‘drug testing’ which has no evidence base, is unreliable and perpetuates this failed war on drugs by focusing largely upon illicit use and presence of a drug rather than impairment or intoxication.

And in the light of this revelation let’s immediately take steps to allow people with medically certified life-limiting conditions to self medicate with raw cannabis.

Julian Buchanan
Associate Professor
Institute of Criminology
Victoria University of Wellington

Kail Johnson

A brilliant proposition. An effective way of dealing with a social issue like low risk and low harm substances currently regulated under the MOD Act and this current system of governance.

And yes I also agree with Julian, Drug Testing is a very rude practice. What a person does in their own time is their own business as long as it does no harm to others.

I also want to note that although it is in our governments best interest to dictate how we live our lives it is not something I agree with as it does not work. The rebellious teenager stereotype is a fine analogy as to why these techniques are ill advisable. 

And to add the clear hypocrisy with being able to have alcohol and tobacco which are very harmful yet the guy who smokes some cannabis is considered a criminal. To me it seems like our government and others idealise humanity too much and need to realise things like psychoactive substances are an integral part of human history, culture and being.

But hey, I’m just a college drop-out. But overall good step forward to see this opinion surface from Dunne, good to see at-least one kiwi politician actually thinking about ways to better address social issues like this.

Brandon Hutchison

Drug testing in the workplace is largely done for corporate image, and has little to do with safety.

Ummm…Peter; This is partly what drug law reformers have be asking for the past 30 years. So why have you been at the vanguard of promoting the war on drugs and thwarting reform in NZ? Congratulations on belatedly seeing the light, but in the meantime prohibition has cost billions of dollars and destroyed numerous lives; more than “drugs” ever did or could. Brandon Hutchison, Christchurch

‘novelpsychss’

It’s almost unheard of for a a serving politician to agree with drug law reform advocates, especially on an issue which is more complex than the simple concept of decriminalisation.

Keep thinking!

Jason Churcher on Facebook:

Peter, ever since you lost your cabinet portfolios you’ve been making more and more sense. A great example of what can be achieved when you have free thought without the slavery to National imposed by collective responsibility.

But Dunne clarified his thinking on cannabis:

For all those who see this as code for legalising cannabis, I say read again. On all the pharmacological and toxicological evidence currently available, cannabis is unlikely to satisfy the low risk requirement on medicinal or other grounds.

Alcohol may not satisfy those requirements either, but the booze genie is well and truly out of the bottle.

Some say that cannabis use is too well established to deal with it as a criminal matter too.

Dunne’s new thinking will certainly get other people thinking ways of addressing our many drug problems.

But the biggest impediment to dealing with all narcotic drug differently is the lack of interest from the major parties. National and Labour show no sign of wanting to address this issue, and even the Greens seem to have gone lukewarm on cannabis law reform.

NORML likes Peter Dunne’s new thinking

It might seem abnormal but NORML is agreeing with Peter Dunne and his latest thinking on addressing drug issues.

Marijuana law reform lobby agrees with Former Associate Minister of Health’s call for evidence-based approach to regulating drugs

Peter Dunne, the “architect” of Psychoactive Substances Act, is now calling for the same regulatory approach to be applied to drugs currently scheduled in the Misuse of Drugs Act.

“People may be surprised to hear NORML agreeing with the former Minister of Health, who blocked cannabis law reform under the former Labour Government,” said Chris Fowlie, president of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML NZ Inc), “but he’s right that the evidence-based approach of the Psychoactive Substances Act should be applied to drugs currently scheduled in the Misuse of Drugs Act.”

“New Zealand’s approach to regulating Psychoactive Substances has rightly attracted admiration around the world. It is evidence-based and puts health and safety first. However it’s obvious there is only a market for synthetic substitutes because cannabis is illegal, and it’s not rational to allow synthetics to be sold while maintaining the world’s highest arrest rate for natural cannabis, which is the safer choice.

“NORML has long campaigned for a regulated taxable system for controlling cannabis and other low-risk drugs. More politicians should try Peter Dunne’s new way of thinking!”

Dunne’s key comments:

Most experts now concede the so-called “war” on drugs has failed, and new initiatives are required.

The Psychoactive Substances Ac… provides for the first time for a regulated market for the sale and supply of psychoactive substances, based on the level of risk they pose to the user.

Although the Psychoactive Substances Act was intended to deal with that issue only, and not to have wider application, it does occur to me that, if after a period of time, it is shown to be working effectively, it could well become the model by which narcotic drugs, currently controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, are regulated for the future.

The yardstick of level of risk – based on sound pharmacological and toxicological evidence – would become the determinant of availability, not public sentiment or prejudice.

I am not suggesting a revolution, but simply observing that the regulatory regime introduced for psychoactive substances could well have wider application and that we should not be averse to that possibility.

Dunne’s blog statement: http://honpfd.blogspot.co.nz/2013/10/31-october-2013-sure-sign-of-looming.html

Psychoactive Substances Act approach for other drugs?

A suggestion that the Psychoactive Substances Act approach be extended to cover other drugs as an alternative to the failed “war on drugs”.

Although the Psychoactive Substances Act was intended to deal with that issue only, and not to have wider application, it does occur to me that, if after a period of time, it is shown to be working effectively, it could well become the model by which narcotic drugs, currently controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, are regulated for the future. The yardstick of level of risk – based on sound pharmacological and toxicological evidence – would become the determinant of availability, not public sentiment or prejudice.

I am not suggesting a revolution, but simply observing that the regulatory regime introduced for psychoactive substances could well have wider application and that we should not be averse to that possibility. After all, most experts now concede the so-called “war” on drugs has failed, and new initiatives are required.

An idea with merit worth considering further?

Others might be surprised who is considering this, but not me.

Psychoactive Substances Bill – no animal testing amendments

Parliament’s Health committee has put out a media release saying it will “not be considering the possibility of animal testing amendments as these have been ruled outside the scope of the bill”.

The Health select committee is currently considering the Psychoactive Substances Bill, and wishes to inform the public that it will not be considering the possibility of animal testing amendments as these have been ruled outside the scope of the bill by the chairperson, after advice from the Office of the Clerk.

“The purpose of the bill is to regulate the availability of psychoactive substances in New Zealand. The bill does not prescribe any design or testing stage, and the ethics of any testing regime is not relevant to the purpose of the bill” said the chairperson Dr Paul Hutchison.

“As such, possible amendments prohibiting testing these substances on animals are not related to the subject matter of the bill as introduced.”

The call for submissions on the bill closed on 1 May 2013. At its meeting today the committee considered all submissions received and resolved not to accept submissions on animal testing on the grounds that they are not relevant to its consideration of the bill.

“To accept these submissions would create a false expectation that the committee could address this issue through recommending amendment to the Psychoactive Substances Bill”, said the chairperson.

The committee will conclude its hearings of evidence on the bill today and will further consider the bill at its next meeting.

Psychoactive Substances Bill and cannabis

The Psychoactive Substances Bill  was introduced to Parliament on Tuesday with wide support. It is limited to covering new synthetic drugs, but a number of MPs and other people have raised hopes of having a look at how we deal with drugs covered by existing laws like cannabis.

Peter Dunne says this could happen in the future, but not “either under this government, or in the foreseeable future”.

He also points out that there is “no way under the regime in the bill that a substance like cannabis, let alone harder drugs, would ever meet the “low risk” test“.

He says “the pharmacological and toxological evidence of the risk they pose is simply too overwhelming!”.

So the answer is not likely soon, and not without dealing with much bigger  issues.

Background

In NZ Herald Damien Grant praises the Psychoactive Substances Bill but asks whether it could extend to other drugs, including cannabis.

Dunne’s drug bill’s a blinder…

Dunne’s solution is heavy-handed but simple. The bill bans anything that causes a psychoactive effect but, if a manufacturer can prove their product has a “low risk of harm”, they can obtain a licence to sell it.

…but should go further

Like most opiates, heroin is highly addictive, with a number of negative long-term effects, so it may not pass the low risk of harm criteria, but why should it be excluded automatically? Likewise, cannabis cannot be licensed yet chemical substitutes for it can be.

Dunne’s bill is a small step on a long road that may lead to a more rational way of dealing with the human desire to get high.

This was also mentioned when the bill was introduced to Parliament. Ian Lees-Galloway (Labour):

I think this is a very positive step, and we may want to look more widely at how it could be applied to other substances.

Kevin Hague (Greens):

So it is proportionate, health-based, and it is the direction that our drug policy and drug law needs to move in. I would support the comments that have been made by other members in relation to the overhaul that is required for the whole of the Misuse of Drugs Act. We too believe that that is overdue and look forward to that occurring in the near future.

I asked Peter Dunne how he thinks the Psychoactive Substances Bill might affect the addressing of wider drug laws.

I do not think there is any prospect of the psychoactive substances regime being extended to all drugs, either under this government, or in the foreseeable future. It is simply too premature to make that call – before the legislation has even been passed, let alone implemented or evaluated.

In principle, I am not averse to the regime being extended in the future. But people should be wary of asking for something they might get!

There is, for example, no way under the regime in the bill that a substance like cannabis, let alone harder drugs, would ever meet the “low risk” test and thus be allowed on the market. The pharmacological and toxological evidence of the risk they pose is simply too overwhelming!

The Psychoactive Substances Bill is a major step forward in dealing with the introduction of rapidly changing synthetic drugs.

It may lead to re-evaluating how we deal with drugs currently covered by other laws, like cannabis and heroin, but it doesn’t look like happening any time soon, and not without overcoming major issues.

Kava not affected by Psychoactive Substances Bill

When the Psychoactive Substances Bill was introduced to Parliament some Labour MPs voiced concern that it might affect the traditional use of kava. O blogged about this – Kava concerns in Psychoactive Substances Bill.

Peter Dunne said at the time that it wouldn’t be affected, and he has now confirmed this and has given details.

Dunne: Kava unaffected by Psychoactive Substances Bill

The purchase and use of kava will be completely unaffected by the Psychoactive Substances Bill currently going through Parliament, confirmed Associate Minister of Health Peter Dunne.

The Bill makes a number of exclusions for products already regulated by other pieces of legislation such as alcohol, medicines and tobacco. There is also an exclusion for food.

When used traditionally kava is regulated as a food under the Food Standards Code and the NZ Food (Supplemented Food) Standard 2010 when it is a drink.

Kava can also be used as a herbal remedy. When used in this way kava is currently regulated by the Dietary Supplements Regulations. There is a specific exclusion in the Psychoactive Substances Bill for dietary supplements and herbal remedies.

Soon these herbal remedies will be regulated by the Natural Health and Supplementary Products Bill, which is due to be passed and enacted later this year. That Bill will contain a consequential amendment to the Psychoactive Substances Bill to maintain the exclusion of natural health and supplementary products from the new psychoactive substances regime.

“Despite the ill-informed scaremongering by Labour MPs kava is already suitably regulated through other legislation and my Bill will have absolutely no effect on that.”

“People that use kava in either its traditional form or as a herbal remedy need not fear, it will be business as usual,” said Mr Dunne.

Disclosure: I have consumed kava on three occasions, while in holiday in Fiji nearly ten years ago. It has a slight mellowing effect.

Kava concerns in Psychoactive Substances Bill

NZ Herald chose to highlight concerns over kava being covered by the Psychoactive Substances Bill when it was introduced to Parliament yesterday.  This was an odd thing to focus on, it was one relatively minor point made in the speeches.

Bill seen as threat to kava

Culturally important substances such as kava could be captured by a law change which aims to stamp out harmful synthetic drugs, MPs have told Parliament.

Labour MP for Mana Kris Faafoi said it was unclear whether the law would ban or limit the sale of kava crops, used in a traditional drink consumed at Pacific Island ceremonies and gatherings. Kava contained psychoactive substances and could have a sedative effect.

Mr Faafoi said: “There is a lot of cultural significance to kava and kava ceremonies … for the Tongan community, for the Samoan community, and for the Fijian community. It is a serious issue.”

From Faafoi’s speech in Parliament:

KRIS FAAFOI: There is nothing in this bill to say that kava may not be included, so I believe that that is one of the issues. And Sam Lotu-Iiga will be interested in this, because he is never shy of an ‘ava ceremony. So if you read the bill—

Hon Maurice Williamson: It covers synthetic. It covers synthetic only.

KRIS FAAFOI: If you read the bill and clause 9, “Meaning of psychoactive substance”, it does not say anywhere in that part of the bill that it is just synthetic substances. So that is something that I think needs to be addressed at the select committee.

David Cunliffe was the only other MP to raise the issue:

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I also wish to just briefly record as a member of Parliament with a large Pacific Island community in my electorate the sensitivity around the issue of kava taking. It is a traditional substance, it is part of traditional routines, and we will want assurance from—

Hon Peter Dunne: Wrong bill. The natural products bill covers it.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Well, we will wait for the Minister to go on record when he is in the chair, and we look forward to that. We will want to have assurances from the Government that traditional cultural practices will not be inappropriately affected by this legislation

From the Bill:

Clause 9 defines a psychoactive substance as a substance, mixture,
preparation, article, device, or thing that is capable of inducing a
psychoactive effect in an individual who uses the psychoactive sub-
stance. Clause 9(c) specifically excludes controlled drugs (as speci-
fied or described in Schedule 1, 2, or 3 of the Misuse of Drugs Act
1975), precursor substances (as specified or described in Schedule 4
of that Act), medicines, herbal remedies, dietary supplements, and
food from the definition. Alcohol and tobacco products are also gen-
erally excluded from the definition of psychoactive substance unless
the alcohol or tobacco product contains a psychoactive substance.
In addition, clause 9(b)(ii) and (c)(ix) provide that the definition in-
cludes or excludes a substance, mixture, preparation, article, device,
or thing that is capable of inducing a psychoactive effect in an indi-
vidual that is declared, by the Governor-General by Order in Council
made under clause 81, to be or not be a psychoactive substance for
the purposes of the Bill.

There is more detail in Psychoactive Substances Bill – download PDF (1.2MB)

(c) does not include—

(iv) a herbal remedy (as defined in section 2(1) of the
Medicines Act 1981):
(v) a dietary supplement (as defined in regulation 2A 10
of the Dietary Supplements Regulations 1985):
(vi) any food (as defined in section 2 of the Food Act
1981):
(ix) a substance, mixture, preparation, article, device,
or thing that is, or that is of a kind or belonging to 25
a class that is, declared by the Governor-General
by Order in Council made under section 81 not
to be a psychoactive substance for the purposes
of this Act.

Kava isn’t specifically mentioned but it seems obvious the intent of the bill is to not cover natural substances like kava and ‘ava.  Perhaps it is something that needs to be clarified in the legislation, unless it is already adequately covered by one or more of the above exceptions. It should be given appropriate attention in the committee stage.

 

 

Psychoactive Substances Bill – international reaction

A blog report on the 56th Commission on Narcotic Drugs (held in Vienna recently):

Another fresh breath of air in this year’s event was New Zealand’s Minister of Revenue, Peter Dunne who addressed the Commission and explained the new and innovative legislation that will be coming before the New Zealand parliament in the fall that will address the many new psychoactive substances that are appearing almost daily that are unscheduled within the treaties.

Under the proposed legislation, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, all of these new substances will be banned unless a manufacturer can prove that they pose no more than a low risk of harm.

Rather than ban all new substances immediately the New Zealand government plan to put the onus on the industry to ensure the safety of their products and if they pass muster they will be placed in a regulatory schedule that will allow retail sales of the products under certain conditions.

When asked how this scheme was received by other delegations Minister Dunne said there was a great deal of interest in the proposed legislation and countries are watching closely to see the outcomes.

Donald MacPherson, Executive Director, Canadian Drug Policy Coalition
http://idpc.net/blog/2013/03/reading-between-the-lines-at-the-56th-commission-on-narcotic-drugs

It will be interesting to see how the Psychoactive Substances Bill works when it comes into effect in August.

Peter Dunne – the week that was

Peter Dunne has done “my latest video blog” – The Week that Was.

He admits “it hasn’t been the best of weeks”, with some prominent but relatively minor setbacks. But he turns his focus to positives. Small parties get scant coverage of what they are beavering away at.

So Dunne details “all the other things that are happening that United Future is playing a major part in”.

  • Our synthetic drugs legislation, our psychoactive substances bill…is seen as world leading, innovative, and a step that all other countries should follow.
  • In the next couple of weeks or so, the child support legislation, bringing about the major child support change for the first time since the scheme was implemented over twenty years ago, the culmination of a four year project.
  • The whole issue of superannuation back on the agenda…United Future’s flex-super, we’ll have a discussion paper out in the next few months.
  • We’re also going to release in the next couple of months our new national suicide prevention action plan for the next three years, that’s the culmination of a lot of work over the last year to eighteen months.
  • We’ve got the game animal council bill about to come back through parliament.

Like any politician who has been around for two or three decades Dunne has accumulated many detractors, and he attracts many more simply because of his current coalition connections. But he works away and gets things done.

There won’t be many MPs that cover such a varied workload as Dunne – Minister and Associate Minister, party leader and sole representative in Parliament, plus electorate MP.

Within a week or so recently he went from:

  • Accountants and Tax Agents Institute NZ Annual Conference in Blenheim

to

  • UNODC narcotics conference in Vienna (where the Psychotic Substances bill being implemented here received much interest and praise)

back to

  • International Fiscal Association tax conference in Queenstown, keyonote address on current tax issues

then back to the fray in Wellington, birthday on Sunday, then to find his carpack tax consulting process had been sabotaged by special interest groups.

Someone at Kiwiblog called that troughing!

And after all that he’s put together this shoulder shrug, positive look forward video.

I have to admire Dunne’s doggedness and determination to keep doing what he can. A bit of a car park quibble is pretty minor.