Panic over Kronic

Some of you have probably heard about the recall of Pineapple Express, a brand of Kronic (synthetic pot) that’s been found to contain traces of the benzo phenazepam. From what I gather the manufacturers claim they were not aware that this had gone into the product, and sold it to the importer in good faith. Who knows what the truth is? However, Peter Dunne seems to be using this as an opportunity to grandstand his views about how all new products should be regulated and proven to be safe before being offered for sale. And something about cowboys.

So what’s not being said?

For a start Stargate, the importer of Pineapple Express, is run by Matt Bowden. Matt Bowden was at the forefront of the introduction of BZP to New Zealand and has made a lot of money from it. Now I’m not naive enough to think that the continued ability to make money from recreational substances isn’t at least in part a driver for Mr Bowden’s actions – however, regardless of motivation he has also been at the forefront of harm minimisation lobbying since ~2000. He is the driving force behind STANZ (the Social Tonics Association of New Zealand), a body which amongst other things created a voluntary Code of Practice for manufacturers and distributors of BZP based products. Bowden wanted these substances to be regulated rather than banned.

The creation of Class D in 2005 seemed like a step in the right direction – here was a category where substances that were a little bit risky but not proven to be harmful could be placed under regulation. BZP immediately went in there, and what happened? The government placed minimum regulation on it, pills continued to be sold in over the recommended amounts, with no guarantees as to what else was in them, no testing, and no health warnings. Here’s a press statement made by STANZ in 2007 in which they lay out a potential regulatory structure for BZP products, which goes much further than the minimal regulation imposed by the government. It was ignored, the market spun out of control, and eventually BZP was banned.

Now, we’re facing the same situation with Kronic. This is slightly different in that we have a potentially dangerous substance that has found its way into a product, gone through importation and been sold to customers, all without anyone picking it up. Now, this sometimes happens with kids’ toys too, but of course since this is a recreational drug we have a potential moral panic on our hands. And who better than Peter Dunne to stir it up with talk of unregulated markets and cowboys. However, do we think this will get Kronic regulated in a way that it can be tested to ensure quality and safety for customers, that it will be labelled to show what’s in it and regularly checked to make sure nobody’s sneaking anything dodgy in there? I doubt it, and here’s why.

tl;dr on that article – our drug laws are a dog’s breakfast consisting of the Medicines Act, the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act, and the Misuse of Drugs Act. They contradict each other and pretty much make it impossible for governments to regulate something sensibly and within a realistic timeframe. It’s much simpler to ban it.

This year, the Law Commission released its report Controlling and Regulating Drugs, in which it recommended a full review of the classification system, a focus on harm, and specifically addressing how to deal with new recreational substances. It’s widely seen as a progressive view which could genuinely reduce harm from substances already illegal, and risk from new substances.

Matt Bowden’s response: “The current regime means that the market is flooded with untested and potentially unsafe products. Consumers often have no way to find out what they are taking. Requiring the manufacturers of psychoactives to show that their products can be safely used is a vital step in minimising the harm caused by drug abuse. Stargate recommended that the same toxicity testing used for testing new pharmaceutical medicines be used and the Law Commission have adopted this suggestion as the best way forward.” So essentially, “Yay! Now let’s get on with it.”

Minister of Justice Simon Power’s response: “There’s not a single, solitary chance that as long as I’m the Minister of Justice we’ll be relaxing drug laws in New Zealand.” Essentially *fingers in ears* “LALALALALALA”

So when Peter Dunne starts talking about cowboys, and about how this wonderful idea he’s had about regulating substances and testing them is so revolutionary and great, and how the likes of Matt Bowden are putting people at risk for their own profits, please take it with a grain of salt.

I have some idea who created this situation and who’s tried to change it and who’s resisted it in favour of more harmful approaches. And yes, Matt Bowden wants to make money, but it’s pretty clear he wants to do it without killing people. Can our government say the same thing?

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