New Zealand in legal highs U-turn

Politicians in New Zealand have decided to ban designer drugs from sale in the country, reversing an earlier decision to approve low risk drugs while new laws are put in place.

The new Psychoactive Substances Act – passed last year – will allow new psychoactive drugs (‘legal highs’) to be sold legally as long as their manufacturers carry out clinical trials and demonstrate they are safe. The first phase of the plan saw 41 substances – those thought to be the least harmful – given temporary approval as part of a ‘transitional period’ to the new laws.

But the government has now suspended these approvals, saying that all legal highs should be banned until they have been proven to be low risk. Health minister Peter Dunne said this was because of a recent increase in reports of adverse side-effects potentially linked to these substances. An amendment will be discussed in parliament on 8 May, so drugs that are currently approved could be withdrawn from the market within a fortnight.

The transitional period was originally introduced to prevent a black market for legal highs developing, and the newly announced ban seems to contradict the government’s earlier stance. It is unclear how this will affect the overall plan for legalisation.

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