In a shift from an April decision to regulate rather than prohibit synthetic cannabinoids, the government of New Zealand's ruling National Party has moved instead to ban them by the end of this week. It is rushing to amend the Misuse of Drugs Amendments Bill to criminalize some 43 fake weed products currently on store shelves.
"We are going to create temporary class drug orders that will allow me to place a 12-month ban on these currently unregulated psychoactive substances and any new ones that come along," Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne announced. "The bottom line is that these products are generally untested and we do not know the long-term effects of their use and we are not about to just let it all happen and pick up damaged young people at the end."
The cabinet would be "looking carefully at crafting permanent legislation in the foreseeable future," said Prime Minister John Key. "We are not going to stand by while these substances are constantly being created and being made available for sale," he added.
Synthetic cannabinoids, or "cannibimimetics," in the Law Commission's parlance, are synthetic compounds that mimic the action of THC, producing highs similar to that of natural marijuana. The compounds are sprayed on herbal material and sold in corner stores under names like Spice and K2 in the US, although Kronic appears to be a favorite name in Australia and New Zealand.
Under the emergency action, fake marijuana will be carry the same penalties as Class C1 drugs such as marijuana, but mere possession of it will not be a criminal offense.
"We are sending a very strong message that we don't think there is any case for these drugs and we believe they should be taken off the marketplace and we are sending a message to young people that we don't want them taking them," Key said. "It's unacceptable to the government that a product that causes potentially lethal risks is available freely to our young people. If someone's in possession of the products for their own personal use, they could continue to legally use it."
The opposition Labor Party is also supporting the temporary ban. "The government needed to act, you can't have product out there with potentially damaging effects. You should ban the product until they can prove it's safe," party leader Phil Goff told TVNZ's Breakfast Show Monday morning.
But importer Matt Bowden, who seeks regulation of fake marijuana, warned that prohibition would lead to more potent drugs being developed and would create a black market and empower organized crime.
"Prohibition is counterproductive. It's a failed policy which does nothing for consumers," he said. "A black market happens when you make something illegal and there is a high consumer demand. Right now they are available for a couple of weeks, consumers will be stockpiling them.''
Another interested party, Chris Fowlie of the Hempstore, which sells the products, told TV ONE that despite sensational reports in the media, there are no actual scientific, peer-reviewed studies that back up the sometimes lurid accusations of harm.
"Well, they aren't making it up, but they aren't peer reviewed, so for all we know they could be talking about the same person complaining many times, it could be one particular brand causing all the problems, we don't know, so until we have those studies, it's guess work," he said. "The law does say that the classification of drugs does have to be based on evidence, that's built into the misuse of drugs act and Peter Dunne is ignoring that."
Fowlie predicted that the ban will create new problems. "Firstly you will see retailers dumping stock, we for one will be having a big sale to get rid of everything we've got, and you will see new products come out immediately after the ban."