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A bill placing age restrictions on the sale of legal highs, such as party pills, may be delayed despite widespread calls for its swift introduction.
The Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill (No 3), which will create a new R18 category of Class D drugs, is being considered by Parliament's health select committee. If approved, products such as party pills and NOS (nitrous oxide canisters), will be classified as Class D, which will limit their sale to people 18 years and over, regulate where they can be sold and how they are marketed and labelled.
The select committee was scheduled to report next Tuesday, but has requested a postponement until May 19.
Committee chairwoman Steve Chadwick said the proposed amendments were complex and they needed more time to draft legislation which would fit a legal substance into a framework for illegal substances.
The Class D option was proposed by the Government's 10-member Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs in April 2004.
Party pills, often incorrectly described as herbal highs, are pills based on the synthetic piperazine compounds BZP and TFMPP, which mimic the effects of illicit drugs such as amphetamines and Ecstasy. Supporters say the pills are non-addictive and lessen the demand for illegal stimulants.
The party pill industry has developed swiftly since Nemesis, this country's first party pill, was released five years ago. There are now about 20 major providers who collectively earn an estimated $24 million annually.
As the pills are not covered by food and medicine laws, the only regulations governing the producers and retailers come from a voluntary code developed by industry lobby group the Social Tonics Association of New Zealand (STANZ).
But the association supports the shift to Government regulation to stem the rise of backyard operators who indiscriminately sell low-quality, unlabelled pills containing more than 250mg of BZP, more than three times the standard dose of 70mg to 80mg.
Gangs have also entered the market, selling off bags of cheap, pure BZP, known as hummer.
Over the past week, Christchurch residents have periodically picketed Weirdos, a store specialising in legal highs, which they claim is targeting school students.
Christchurch City councillor Bob Shearing is among those supporting the proposed bill.
He was unable to identify negative impacts from the taking of legal highs, but said there were objections to the youths assembling outside the store and the litter left on the streets.