Lifestyle & Belief

'Legalize it' in New Zealand takes on whole new meaning with legal highs law


Packages of Spice, a "legal-high drug," are pictured in a London shop. Spice is made using synthetic chemicals and herbs and sold in head shops. It has been linked to mood swings and paranoia.



Forget marijuana, in New Zealand your herbal highs and party pills could soon be legal.

Lawmakers there have overwhelmingly approved a Psychoactive Substances Act that will attempt to control the spread of synthetic marijuana, bath salts and other man-made chemicals designed to get you stoned.

It’s in response to failed prohibition policies that were always chasing manufacturers who could create new substances that weren’t considered illegal.

They occupied a grey area ahead of the law; as soon as old drugs were banned, new ones were created.

These drugs try to mimic illegal drugs like pot or ecstasy, yet can cause considerable harm; they were sometimes accessible to minors.

The law came into effect last month after a 119-1 vote, with the lone vote against coming because the law allows for animal testing.

“After more than two years of considerable hard work, New Zealand finally has a tool with which to address the scourge of unregulated psychoactive substances,” Associate Health Minister Todd McClay said, the New Zealand Herald reported July 17.

The seemingly drastic measure comes as countries around the world grapple with how to control these new drugs.

More from GlobalPost: Legalize it, a worldwide look at drugs

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime says there are now more “new psychoactive substances” (251) than controlled substances (234).

Furthermore, the UN said, the number of new psychoactive substances has increased by more than 50 percent in about 3 1/2 years. At the end of 2009, there were 166 known substances compared to the 251 today.

“Since new harmful substances have been emerging with unfailing regularity on the drug scene, the international drug control system is now challenged by the speed and creativity of the NPS phenomenon,” the UN says on its website.

New Zealand’s law is actually a cunning drug-control strategy in disguise.

First, it made selling unproven drugs – with names like Spice, Kronic or K2 – illegal. Anyone caught selling the drugs now faces hefty fines, and retailers that sold them before had to clear their shelves of unregulated product.

It also puts the onus on manufacturers to prove they produce drugs with minimal harm in clean, controlled environments.

You have to be 18 to buy any approved drugs, and you won’t be able to find them in corner stores, grocery stores or liquor stores. There are also controls on advertising and packaging.

The law has garnered worldwide attention from foreign governments, the Associated Press reported.

“The basic prohibitionist approach doesn’t seem to be working,” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told the AP. “Either a drug is criminalized, and underground chemists produce a new compound, or it’s not criminal because it’s never been created before.”

More from GlobalPost: What we learned from Uruguay’s push to legalize it