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Further 3 synthetic cannabis substances to be banned

A further three synthetic cannabis substances are in the process of being banned this week and are expected to be off the shelves late next week, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said today.

This brings the total number of substances now banned under Temporary Class Drug Notices which became law in August to 19, with 43 actual products containing these substances already removed from the market.

Mr Dunne said while it was concerning to see new products such as Amsterdam Café, which was in the media today, in shops, but he has instructed health officials to investigate and test these new products.

“If it shows that they contain substances already banned, they will be gone. If it shows they contain new untested substances, I will put in place the necessary Temporary Class Drug Notices to deal with it.

“I have removed 43 products already; if I have to remove another 43, so be it,” Mr Dunne said.

“If the industry thinks they can get around the law by changing a couple of ingredients, repackaging, re-branding and back to business the way they always have, then they have seriously misread the scope and potency of this law.

“We are not letting them make their profit by plying young New Zealanders with substances that are unproven and potentially unsafe.

“The game is over. It is just that it has not clicked for some of them yet,” Mr Dunne said.

He said the latest three substances that are in the process of being banned were intercepted by Customs at the border and had not reached their importers.

Temporary Class Drug Notices ban a product or substance within seven days of the notice being gazetted.

They were introduced in August as a holding measure until permanent legislation can be developed next year that will reverse the onus of proof so importers will have to prove their products are safe before they can be sold.

Q & A on Temporary Class Drug Notices

What is a Temporary Class Drug Notice?

It is a new mechanism provided for in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 (the Act) to place a temporary ban on unregulated substances of concern.

How quickly can a Temporary Class Drug Notice be placed on a synthetic cannabinoid substance?

The Minister of Health can issue a notice on a drug or substance that comes into force in 7 days after its publication in the Gazette. 

The notice will expire one year after the notice comes into force, or when the drug is otherwise classified.  Within the 12 months of the order, any so-classified substance would be assessed by a committee to be established for the purpose under the existing power in the Act.  The committee would assess substances for risk of harm and make recommendation to the Minister of Health on whether the substance should be classified as a controlled drug or scheduled as a restricted substance, or remain unregulated.

However, the Minister may extend the period of the notice in order to obtain sufficient advice for an appropriate decision on longer term regulation.

Why would a drug be temporarily classified?

A drug could be temporarily classified when the Minister of Health Is concerned about its availability as an unregulated psychoactive substance, for which there is an unknown level of harm.

What offences are associated with a temporarily classified drug?

A temporary class drug is treated, in most respects, as if the drug were Class C1 controlled drug in the Act.  From the date a Temporary Class Drug Notice comes into force the import, export, manufacture, supply and sale of the drug/s covered by the notice becomes illegal, with penalties the same as for Class C drugs.  However, the possession or use of the drug/s would not be a criminal offence.

What drugs does the Government want to temporarily classify?

The issuing of a notice will depend on the availability and level of concern about specific substances not controlled by any regulation. However, the impetus for the proposed change to remove synthetic cannbinomimetic chemicals from sale by placing temporary bans on them.

These substances are currently found in a wide range of products sold from retail outlets and via the Internet, despite a lack of scientific knowledge on the risks and long-term effects associated with their use.

Why has it taken time to address the issue of synthetic cannabinomimetic substances?

The Government previously agreed to a recommendation by the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs to schedule a specific number of these substances as restricted substances under the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 2005.  However, this process first required a technical change to the legislation, included in the current Bill before the House.

In the past few months the number of synthetic cannabinomimetics available in New Zealand has escalated, as has the number and variety of new products on the market containing them.  There has been a corresponding increase in reported adverse effects associated with their use resulting in increased public concern.

In addition, recent testing by ESR of more than 40 of these products has revealed a lack of quality control, with a number of products containing multiple psychoactive substances in varying blends and potencies.  This lack of quality control was demonstrated by the recent recall by the Ministry of Health of two products for containing a prescription medicine.

What other drugs are likely to be banned by the new legislation?

Any decisions by the Minister of Health on what drugs should be covered by temporary notice will be made on an ongoing basis.

Who will enforce the temporary bans?

 The Police and Customs Service in line with their current responsibilities under the Misuse of Drugs Act.

 Why bring in a temporary measure now when the Law Commission has recommended requiring any new psychoactive substances to be proved safe before they can be sold?

The Government has decided that the increasing availability of products containing untested psychoactive chemicals is unacceptable and therefore new controls are now required.

The Government is very supportive of the Law Commission’s proposal for a new regime to regulate new and unregulated psychoactive substances.  However, this is a major change and requires agreement by Cabinet and, if agreed, a good deal of development will be necessary, including new or amended legislation and the establishment of a regulator.

Any new regime is unlikely to be in place until sometime in 2012.

This has been a legal industry selling a legal product; isn't this unfair to them?

The industry has been profiting from the sale of these products for some time.  However, it has become increasingly clear that more products are continually being brought to market with no quality control standards and with a combination of untested psychoactive chemicals with unknown health effects.

How can the 'stockpiling' of temporarily banned products be avoided?

 Any supplier of products containing drugs covered by a Temporary Class Drug Notice is advised to dispose of them before the notice comes into force, otherwise they will be subject to penalties under the Misuse of Drugs Act.  The advice for those in possession of these products is not to use them.

Why will the supply of temporarily classified drugs be prohibited, but their possession still legal?

A Temporary Class Drug Notice will provide for the immediate control of substances under the Misuse of Drugs Act, with the same penalties as for Class C drugs, except that personal possession or use is not to be an offence.

The intention of a notice is to immediately restrict the supply of a drug with unknown consequences.  However, classification would be on the basis of belief by the Minister of Health there is a risk or possibility of harm to individuals, but where the level of potential harm has yet to be determined.  In the interim, the Government does not believe anyone using the drug should be criminalised.

3rd Oct. 2011

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