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New Zealand Regulates -- Not Bans -- Synthetic Drugs

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #796)
Consequences of Prohibition
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

Like other countries around the world, New Zealand has been grappling with the rise of the new synthetic drugs, such as the stimulant-type drugs known as "bath salts." Unlike other countries around the world, including the United States, Kiwi lawmakers have responded not by attempting to ban them out of existence, but moving instead to regulate them.

"Bath salts" synthetic drugs (
"Regulating psychoactive substances will help protect the health of, and minimize harm to, individuals who use these substances," said the Ministry of Health in support of the bill.

Passed on July 17 and put into effect the following day, the Psychoactive Substance Act of 2013 creates a new government agency, the Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority, to ensure that the new synthetics meet safety standards before going to market. The Authority is also charged with developing, implementing, and administering a licensing scheme for researchers, retailers, wholesalers, manufacturers, and importers.

That means that instead of sending in SWAT teams to bust underground synthetic drug labs, New Zealand will allow the drugs to be legally manufactured under strict regulations. But those seeking to manufacture them legally will have to demonstrate that they pose a low risk to consumers, including undergoing rigorous clinical trials to determine toxicity and addictiveness, and subsequent approval by an independent expert advisory committee.

"Simply banning these drugs only incentivizes producers to develop drugs that get around the law -- regardless of what they will do to the people that take them," said Ross Bell, executive director of the New Zealand Drug Foundation. "This model incentivizes producers to develop drugs that are safer. We think that's a much smarter way to go about it."

Under the new law, regulations on the sale and purchase of the new synthetics immediately went into effect, including a ban on sales to people under 18, a ban on sales in convenience stores, and requirements for labeling and packaging, including mandatory health warnings.

"This represents a potentially transformative breakthrough in the legal regulation of drugs that typically have been criminalized with little forethought," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the US Drug Policy Alliance. "It pokes an important hole in the edifice of drug prohibition."

Other countries may be interested in enlarging that hole, the Associated Press reported last week. It cited interest in the New Zealand model among Australian and British parliamentarians and quoted bill sponsor MP Peter Dunne as saying others were interested, too.

"The Hungarians, the Irish, the British, they're all keen to know what we are up to," he said. "It's seen as cutting edge. They want to see how it works, and view it for their own country."

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Some interested in reform have ho-hummed this, saying the bar might be set so high for licensing that it amounts to a ban on new psychoactives generally. Even if that turned out to be the case, the statement made by the law's enactment itself is earth-shaking: It is an acknowledgment by gov't that the development for the popular market of psychoactives that don't necessarily have any therapeutic or diagnostic purpose is a worthy (or at least not useless) goal. I would look for major drug development firms to jump on this. You won't hear about it for a while, because they'll want to preserve trade secrecy while they're working on development, but I expect that by the end of 2014 they'll have made some applications for licensure. The national market may be small, but development costs will not be anywhere near as great as for therapeutics, and I'm sure they'll be looking at this as a lab for marketing to the rest of the world, pending suitable signals from regulatory authorities elsewhere. Plus, some may look at it as a cheap way to get leads for psychoactives that turn out to be therapeutic once there's consumer experience with them. It will also be interesting how the interpret'n of "low risk" plays out relative to, say, "modified risk" tobacco and nicotine-containing products in the USA & elsewhere. There seems to be a major regulatory deterrent to development of products whose risk may be lower than currently legal tobacco products, but which may be prohibitively expensive regulatory- or liability-wise to prove to be lower risk than products which may legally be marketed without any such proof. In NZ presumably the comparison will instead be to the risk of products sold on the black market.
Sat, 08/10/2013 - 12:12pm Permalink

Hi, my name is Jeffrey Chambers, and I am a 25-year-old web developer from San Diego, CA who is currently working on a film documenting the rise of misrepresented substances. 
How We Got Started
While attending Tennessee's Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in 2012, my roommate and I met the founder of The Bunk Police, an organization which manufactures and distributes Substance Test Kits (similar to those provided by DanceSafe and EZTest).
It was at Bonnaroo that we realized the extremely prevalent and overlooked issue of adulterated & misrepresented substances being openly distributed on the "black market."
Misrepresented Substances
After doing our own research and shadowing the Bunk Police at a few more festivals in 2012, we realized that the overwhelming majority of drugs being sold & consumed (particularly at music festivals) are either cut with a dangerous substance or being replaced & misrepresented entirely.
Most of the MDMA being sold is Synthetic Cathinones more commonly referred to as "Bath Salts." LSD is being replaced with "Research Chemicals" such as 25I-Nbome, Methamphetamine being passed off as Cocaine, and Heroin/Opium being cut with Fentanyl. 
Goals with this Film
We felt compelled to bring mass attention to these widely overlooked issues like misrepresented illicit substances or the ready availability of harm reduction tools like Substance Test Kits, while at the same time providing a well-rounded critique of the ineffective drug policies that are effecting the status quo.
Sun, 08/11/2013 - 6:15pm Permalink

This is the most intelligent post I've read anywhere in quite a while! For the ONE TIME I purchased a supposedly "prescription" drug to help with terrible pain, I was horrified to discover at my next doctor's appointment that I tested positive for: Methadone, cocain, methamphetamine, and more of such horrible substances. The counterfeit pills which I purchased actually had NONE of the content of the pill they were supposed to represent! Drug misrepresentation is a serious, much more serious crime, than simple illegal drug sales. It's time that this particular aspect of prohibition be recognized and that illegal drug users be provided with the ability to purchase such testing kits, and thus have access to a tool that could very possibly save lives. Thank you for posting such valuable insights and information!

Mon, 12/02/2013 - 8:41am Permalink
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Fri, 04/18/2014 - 4:57pm Permalink

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