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Tough new regime for legal highs

Wednesday 10 Oct 2012 5:38 p.m.

By Adam Ray

The Government's dealt an expensive blow to the manufacturers and retailers of drugs like synthetic cannabis.

K2 is the latest synthetic cannabis that's being tested because of fears it may have dangerous side effects. A Dunedin teenager suffered seizures after smoking it, and a family friend says the teen faces a long recovery.

“When he got to hospital he had a massive seizure and it took six people to hold him down, and we're talking about a 16-year-old boy,” says Debbie Hannan.

Ms Hannan says the Government needed to take action, and the Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne today announced a tough new regime for makers and sellers of psychoactive products like K2

From next year they'll have to pay an application fee of about $210,000, and another $1m to $2m to cover testing before their product can go on shelves.

“For those products that come through all that and come through, we would be confident of their safety,” says Mr Dunne.

He says he could have banned legal highs, but some of them may be safe to use.

The new rules will also force manufacturers to display each product's active ingredient on labels, and will ban them from dairies.

Anyone caught with unapproved products will face a $300 fine, but this won't be a criminal offence.

“We're not going to criminalise that offence because we don't want to penalise the young people who may be involved,” says Mr Dunne.

But it will be a criminal offence to sell an unapproved substance under the new regime, and it could land offenders with up to eight years in jail.

The industry faces huge costs and smaller manufacturers will be forced out, but one expert says big players will survive.

“Investment will be attracted to research in this area, so probably larger companies, pharmaceuticals, will be able to afford research so that'll create safer alternatives,” says legal highs entrepreneur Matt Bowden.

Mr Bowden says the new regime will mean people will be able to get high without buying illegal street drugs.

“The only thing that will draw us away from the more dangerous drugs is provision of safer alternatives – and that's what these regulations allow us to do.”

But Mr Dunne says the Government isn't encouraging the use of legal highs – it’s just making it safer for those who do.

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