Psychoactive Substances Bill – introduction to Parliament [VIDEOS]

Written by Legal Highs NZ on . Posted in Legal Highs, Synthetic Cannabis, Synthetic Cannabis News

Peter Dunne introduced the Psychoactive Substances Bill to Parliament yesterday and it passed the first reading with the support of all parties, and will now go to Select Committee for two months.

(Draft transcript of speeches by Peter Dunne, Iain Lees-Galloway, Dr Paul Hutchison, Kevin Hague)

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First Reading

Hon PETER DUNNE (Associate Minister of Health) (UnitedFutureOhariu):

Video: Psychoactive Substances Bill – First Reading – Part 1


I move, That the Psychoactive Substances Bill be now read a first time. I nominate the Health Committee to consider the bill. At the appropriate time I will move that the Health Committee report to the House on the bill by 14 June 2013, and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting, except during oral questions, during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, and outside the Wellington area despite Standing Orders 188 , 190 , and 191(1)(b) and (c).

Over the last 20 years New Zealand and other countries have been facing an acceleration in the development of new recreational drugs. The Misuse of Drugs Act 1975—the legislation that protects the public from drugs that are known to pose a moderate, high, or very high risk of harm—was never designed for an environment in which dozens of new substances can be brought to the market in the space of just a few weeks.

It has simply been unable to keep up. Scores of products with unknown effects and unknown risk profiles—indeed, some barely known to science at all—have slipped through this regulatory void and on to dairy shelves. The public has been rightly concerned as news reports have highlighted that young adults, adolescents, and even some children have been taking these so-called legal highs, and suffering as a result.

About 18 months ago this House passed an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act, which has allowed me to issue temporary class drug notices in the Gazette. These are time-limited bans, and the effect of a temporary class drug notice is to apply the same penalties as we do for cannabis, except that personal possession is not an offence.

So far I have issued such notices for 33 of these substances, affecting more than 50 products. More are still available. But there is a game of regulatory cat and mouse afoot here, where an irresponsible industry seeks to elude authorities and circumvent the law by bringing new chemicals to the lucrative market of things that have not yet been banned. Many people have asked me why we do not simply ban these substances altogether.

Unfortunately, because the retail products are a combination of substances—some are harmful and some are not—it is simply not that simple. What the temporary class drug notice regime has done is make it possible to respond faster to new developments, but I freely concede—and did so at the time—that it does nothing to slow those developments in the first place. That can actually have the perverse effect of increasing the range of emerging drugs.

This proliferation of poorly understood chemicals and their widespread use should concern all of us. We need an enduring solution, and that is what this bill is all about. The Psychoactive Substances Bill ends this dangerous game of cat and mouse by banning the import, the manufacture, the sale, the supply, and the possession of psychoactive substances. It reverses the onus of proof by making all psychoactive substances illegal, unless the industry can prove their products are low risk.

Psychoactive substances are broadly defined in the bill as substances, mixtures, preparations, articles, devices, or things that are capable of inducing a psychoactive effect, by any means, in the people who choose to use them. Substances already governed by other legislation—foods, medicines, supplements, herbal remedies, alcohol, tobacco, controlled drugs, and precursors to controlled drugs—are excluded from that definition.

To avoid situations where the law is circumvented by people labelling products such as bath salts, incense, or plant food, as has happened here and overseas, there is a power for a declaration by Order in Council that a substance is or is not a psychoactive substance for the purpose of this legislation. This law will not be mocked by fine print “Not for human consumption.” words being placed on packaging.

But it is not the Government’s intention to ban absolutely everything for ever. The meat of the bill is a pathway to a regulated market for psychoactive substances, if they can be shown to pose no more than a low risk of harm. I emphasise here that to say that a product poses no more than a low risk of harm is not the same as saying that a product is safe. No one will be allowed to claim that a product is safe.

The Government has no intention of acting in a way that might be interpreted as an endorsement of party drugs. What the bill does is create a Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority and an expert advisory committee. The authority will be responsible for granting licences for the import and manufacture of psychoactive substances, and on the advice of the expert committee approving psychoactive products for sale if they have been shown to pose no more than that low risk of harm I spoke of.

To bring a product to market, a sponsor will therefore have to demonstrate to the expert committee that the product poses no more than a low risk of harm. Practically speaking, this will involve providing the committee with evidence from clinical safety trials, similar to those required to bring a new medicine to market. That process will be expensive, and I make no apology for that.

There will be no room under this regime for fly-by-night operators wanting to sell on the cheap substances they do not fully understand. Approved products will be made subject to comprehensive regulatory control. So even if they come through the hoop, people under 18 will be unable to buy, sell, or be supplied these products.

For retail outlets, the packaging, the labelling, and the promotion of approved products will be strictly limited. There will be requirements for health warnings on the packaging, since even products with no more than a low risk of harm cannot be called completely safe. Manufacturing standards, disposal, and record-keeping requirements will be set.

In the legislation itself there is a requirement for product sponsors or licence holders to report all adverse events involving their products to the authority, which will have the power to suspend or cancel trading in a product.

And, finally, the bill contains a transitional provision that allows products lawfully sold throughout the 6 months prior to the commencement of the legislation to remain on the shelves if—and only if—an application for approval has been lodged with the authority no later than 30 days after this legislation is enacted.

I expect that provision to receive a reasonable level of attention during the select committee process, and I therefore encourage the committee to consider it in the light of the bill’s intention to minimise health-related harm and to place the onus of proof on the sponsor.

The penalties for infringing against this regime are strong but commensurate with the need to protect the public from unknown drugs. This bill is a necessary measure to protect the health of the public by regulating novel psychoactive substances in a way that is proportionate to the risks they pose.

It is a world first, and when I attended the recent United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime meeting in Vienna, our legislation was the subject of considerable attention and interest. New Zealand is being seen as an innovator. We are seen as a country that is promoting through this bill a viable solution to a problem that many countries are similarly grappling with.

I am therefore very proud of this bill, and I am very proud now to commend it to the House for its first reading.

IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North):

Video: Psychoactive Substances Bill – First Reading – Part 2


Let me say at the outset that Labour wholeheartedly supports this legislation, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, and we look forward to the select committee process and hearing what people have to say about the bill. There are two aspects of it that I think are particularly worthy of praise.

First—and this is the thing that many parents around New Zealand will be very pleased to see—it does provide a mechanism to get some of these substances that have been untested, that are unproven, off the shelf until such time as they are proven to be safe. I know that there will be people, particularly parents, around the country rejoicing at the knowledge that this legislation is finally being passed and that that will be the effect.

The second aspect, though, that I think is particularly praiseworthy is the fact that for the first time in this Parliament we are expecting to pass legislation that proposes a mechanism by which some drugs can become legal and make it to market in a regulated—I hope a very tightly regulated—market.

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. But I know that that is not the purpose of this legislation. That is not the debate we are having today.

We need to focus today on the issue at hand, and that is the issue of novel, particularly synthetic, psychoactive substances that are not covered by other pieces of legislation.

Things like alcohol, tobacco, and those conventional drugs that are covered by the Misuse of Drugs Act and natural remedies—those sorts of things—are not going to be covered by this bill.

This is particularly aimed at things like synthetic cannabis and party pills, which we know have unfortunately caused a lot of damage to young people because there has been no mechanism by which those substances can be proven safe before they go to the market.

I would like to point out some aspects of the Psychoactive Substances Bill that I think are particularly excellent.

The first is that the possession of a substance that is not an approved substance will not attract a criminal conviction. There is no danger of a person being imprisoned. In fact it will be nothing more than an infringement that attracts a fine of up to $500. I think that, again, is a positive step, and one that we might want to reflect on in the future for how that type of arrangement might apply to other substances.

Obviously this allows only for the substances to be sold to people who are aged 18 and over. That will need to be tightly, tightly enforced.

Finally, it is an offence to employ someone under 18 to sell psychoactive substances. Again this is an issue that we have seen time and time again in the tobacco debate that youngsters, very young people, employed in small retail outfits, to be fair, have been in the position where they have been selling a substance that is restricted and only to be sold to people who are aged 18 and over.

There is anecdotal evidence of those very young people being bullied really into selling tobacco to people who are aged under 18. It would be the same situation with psychoactive substances. I am very pleased to see that provision included in this legislation.

As the Associate Minister of Health said around 18 months ago he introduced the time-limited bans on certain psychoactive substances. Again we in the Opposition supported that. As the Minister said he has issued notices regarding 27 of those substances.

However, many more are still available, and, if anything, after the introduction of those temporary bans the pace at which new substances came on to the market to replace those that had the temporary ban applied to them increased. It was never going to be the lasting solution. The Minister freely conceded that.

It is fantastic that we have finally got to the stage, 2 years after the Law Commission tabled its report Controlling and Regulating Drugs, where we are debating the lasting legislation that will deal with that situation.

There are a range of aspects of the bill that we in the Opposition are looking forward to hearing what submitters have to say, and looking forward to discussion at the select committee.

Issues such as plain packaging of psychoactive substances, whether or not the display of psychoactive substances at the point of sale ought to be banned, and whether or not there should be in-store advertising of psychoactive substances are left in this bill to regulation. They are not dealt with in the primary legislation.

Therefore, it is over to a Minister to decree by Order in Council whether or not we have such measures. I know that there are some people out there who think that is not robust enough, and that those aspects should be included in the primary legislation. I, for one, am keen to hear the debate for and against that. I want to hear what the officials think is the best approach, but I do believe that those aspects need to be considered closely.

There is a transitional period accounted for in this legislation that would mean that some substances that are currently available, to which temporary bans have not been applied, it would be potentially possible to carry on selling those substances after this legislation is passed. I do not believe that everybody in our communities thinks that is adequate.

Many, many people will be expecting that by passing this legislation we will be removing all of those substances from the shelf until they are proven safe. We need to look closely at that transitional period.

This legislation requires people to acquire a licence to import and a licence to manufacture psychoactive substances. It does not require retailers to acquire a licence to sell psychoactive substances.

We have a situation in New Zealand at the moment where we have a substance, tobacco, that retailers do not require a licence for in order to sell. We have another substance, alcohol, that retailers do require a licence to sell.

Where do psychoactive substances fit in that spectrum? Ought we be leaning more towards a licensing regime? Or ought we, as this legislation allows for, not have such a licensing regime for retailers? That is another question that needs to be explored thoroughly at the select committee.

Although this legislation does adhere very closely to chapter 5 and the recommendations held in chapter 5 of the Law Commission’s report, one of the recommendations in that chapter was for price controls to be considered as a method of harm reduction regarding psychoactive substances.

The Law Commission stated that just as it found with alcohol it believed that price controls would be a method that we could use to reduce the harm. However, this legislation makes no reference at all to price controls whether they be through a minimum pricing regime or through the use of excise taxes.

Again it is another issue that needs to be explored at the select committee. In the short time I have left I do just wish to state that although this legislation is a positive move, it is by no means the fulsome consideration of the Misuse of Drugs Act that is required.

The Law Commission said that the Misuse of Drugs Act is outdated, it is not fit for purpose, and it needs to be thoroughly reviewed and replaced. This is far from a replacement for the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Other issues canvassed in the Law Commission report such as the classification system for conventional drugs—one that actually considers the real harms associated with different drugs—regulation regarding personal use and possession of drugs, as well as the possession of utensils for drug use, regulation affecting offences and penalties, and exemptions from prohibition, all factors that the Law Commission made sound recommendations on all ignored by this legislation.

It is time for a comprehensive review, and a comprehensive replacement of the Misuse of Drugs Act. But on the issue of psychoactive substances, getting them off our shelves until they are proven safe, this legislation is good and the Labour Party is pleased to support it.

Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua):

Video: Psychoactive Substances Bill – First Reading – Part 3


There is no doubt that over the last 22 years or so party pills and manufacture of psychoactive pills has escalated enormously in this country. They have been extremely hard to control legally.

We have seen all sorts of attempts at this, particularly since about 2002, as there have been changes in 2005 with the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act and then further changes to that.

It came particularly to the notice of the public with benzylpiperazine, which I think people could manufacture easily from sheep dip, which was cheap and easily available in a country like New Zealand.

Sadly we had to grapple with the spectre of many of these party pills being available in our dairies to young people, and sold in a pretty frivolous way by all sorts of people to a variety of, in particular, young people who when these were mixed with alcohol could lead to all sorts of disastrous consequences.

The trouble was they were legal, they were cheap, and they were readily available. As I mentioned, the Misuse of Drugs Act amendment came in in 2005 and it gave a ready mechanism to be able to categorise drugs such as these as controlled drugs, but the problem was as soon as one was categorised then another variety just with a slight change in the compound would be made and off and away, once again, it would legal, it would be cheap, and the manufacturers were taking great advantage of this situation.

By 2008 another wave of party pills emerged. These were cannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids and, of course, there were a whole variety of these that could be smoked or vaporised and a whole variety of utensils and other things that were associated with them, so that literally dozens of new psychoactive substances, containing a huge new number of ingredients, were being brought onto the market in a matter of weeks, and the existing legislation just could not keep up.

The Law Commission, as was mentioned, completed its review in 2011 and came through with a very, very comprehensive variety of solutions. It was not entirely clear, but certainly the very important concept of requiring the manufacturer to show that the product is of low risk of harm, or to prove that the product was of low risk of harm, is the essence of what this bill is all about. That is where it is innovative; that is where it is world leading.

In the meantime, of course, the Hon Peter Dunne introduced temporary class drug notices, and they have met with quite an amount of success. I think he said 33 substances had been banned under these temporary class drug notices. This has worked well, with a 75 percent fall in the number of calls received by the National Poisons Centre over incidences around synthetic cannabis in 12 months alone, but this bill is to replace these current notices.

The current notices are due to expire, I think, by about August this year, so, indeed, it will be important to get the legislation through in a fairly rapid way. New Zealanders, indeed, deserve to know that products available to them are safe and that they are not being put in harm’s way with untested risky substances.

One of the important things to emphasise is that the cost of testing will be borne by manufacturers and not the taxpayer, and this manufacturing group of people that have been involved with party pills have made a lot of money in a very, very dubious way for a long period of time, so I think that it is good to see that they will have to work extremely hard to show that the products are low risk.

The bill will seamlessly replace the current temporary class drug notices regime. This regime has made it possible to respond faster to new developments, but does nothing to nip them in the bud in the first place.

So the bill will, indeed, hopefully be a much more durable, long-term solution. It has considerable support from organisations like the New Zealand Medical Association and the New Zealand Drug Foundation, and I must say I look forward very much to the select committee process, so that hopefully we can get it into optimal shape.


Psychoactive Substances Bill – First Reading – Part 5


Regulation is a good thing, is it not, particularly when people’s health and safety is concerned, and it is great to be able to take a call in this debate on the first reading of this bill, the Psychoactive Substances Bill , which I think will be supported by members of all parties.

The Green Party welcomes the bill. We in particular welcome the fact that it is, really, the first significant modern attempt to have a rational, principles-based framework for the regulation of drugs, and in particular to have a framework that regulates on the basis of health and in proportion to the harm that is posed by a particular drug.

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.

We particularly note the draft national drug policy, which we expect to see pretty soon. That is going to be a very interesting exercise.

There are some issues that the Green Party has with the bill as drafted, but we believe that these are ones that can be addressed in the select committee process. I will come to those in a moment, to just signal the kinds of issues that we will be looking for in the select committee scrutiny of the bill. We look forward to engage with the Minister on this.

I must add our particular tribute to Minister Dunne for being prepared to take this bold and appropriate move in the field of regulation of psychoactive substances. Synthetic drugs are a global problem, and New Zealand has probably been dealing with that problem for longer than any other country, or certainly longer than most. So it is fitting that we are leading the charge in actually trying to solve that problem.

I note the Minister’s comments at a recent conference that he attended in Vienna about the eyes of the world being upon New Zealand and how we address this problem. As others have set out, in the early 2000s, the issue of not being able to stop these hazardous substances coming to market with New Zealand’s existing law was highlighted when people started buying and taking drugs containing benzylpiperazine (BZP).

In a survey conducted in 2007-08, 13.5 percent of adult New Zealanders had tried BZP at least once.

However, when Government moved at that time to make BZP illegal, it was immediately replaced by another substance, highlighting the problem that others have spoken about, and previous debates in this House, indeed, have reflected that the ability of the industry to develop very similar products that are not captured by the specific legal sanctions that we place on a particular product is apparently infinite, and I believe the number of temporary bans that we have seen is 33, covering in excess of 50 substances.

And actually one of the main effects of that approach to trying to deal with the problem has been to accelerate the process of replacing products, not to solve the problem at all. In the last year alone, 57 new psychoactive substances were identified by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, compared with only 13 in 2008.

So that is more than one each week. We have all seen the stories in the media, and we may, indeed, know personally of people who have been harmed, who have suffered serious health and mental health effects from using these substances.

And these are not effects that the manufacturers and distributors of these products care about. We cannot therefore rely on self-regulation or a form of self-regulation to ensure the safety of New Zealanders. Regulation by this House is what is required.

The use of party pills is popular. It is estimated that 50,000 four-pill packs are sold every month in New Zealand and that the industry has sales of $24 million each year, so it is important that we move to tackle this problem.

It is also important to recognise that not all of these substances actually cause harm, or cause significant harm—and I will come to that in a moment.

As others have said, this follows a Law Commission review, and we believe that we want to see the other recommendations of that review also implemented. So some of the issues that we want the select committee to deal with—the first of those is that we believe that the principles under this bill must include health and harm reduction, and they currently do not.

Those form the very heart of the purpose of this bill and they should be reflected in it. So we are looking forward to that being taken up by the select committee.

The second point is around the definition of low risk. This is going to be absolutely critical. The select committee, I believe, is going to need to try to put some parameters around both what the nature of the risk is that is being assessed.

For example, is it the substance itself or is it the delivery mechanism of that substance? So the smoking of a particular substance—is the health effect of that also included in the risk that is to be assessed?

And “low risk”—what does “low” actually mean? If the threshold is set too high and no substances actually make it to market, what will occur then is that the existing situation will just be perpetuated—that, actually, the illegal trade in psychoactive substances will boom—and that is an outcome that we do not wish to see occur.

If the threshold is set too low, then we will not be controlling the harmful effects of these substances. So just leaving that to chance is inadequate.

We have already addressed the risk to animals from animal testing of the substances. We believe that those should be prohibited by the bill.

We also want to address this transition period, because we believe that the length of the transition period has been set too long.

We expect the law to come into effect in August, but there will not at that point be an authority for applications to go to. We believe the authority must be convened much sooner than a year out, because otherwise we will have an unregulated period of a year in which very substantial harm could be sustained.

We support the calls for the bill to also address plain packaging and point-of-sale marketing. These are significant problems.

We would like the select committee also to explore the other methods of control that we have seen in the Alcohol Reform Bill around venues, around hours, and around all of those other aspects—and, indeed, price and taxation—as mechanisms for control.

So, in conclusion, we do believe that this bill will reduce harm and stop unsafe substances being sold, and that is absolutely a laudable goal. It provides exactly the controls that communities have been calling for.

There are some significant issues that must be addressed, and we are looking to the select committee to do that.

We are very happy to support this bill at its first reading to allow the select committee that opportunity.

We note, in conclusion, that the international community is watching with interest what we do here. Let us give them a model that is worth emulating.

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