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House of Representatives
11 July 2013
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Psychoactive Substances Bill — Third Reading

[Sitting date: 11 July 2013. Volume:692;Page:12000. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]

Psychoactive Substances Bill

Third Reading

Hon TODD McCLAY (Associate Minister of Health) : I move, That the Psychoactive Substances Bill be now read a third time . It is my hope that today we take a very significant step to protect New Zealanders, particularly young New Zealanders, from the harm caused by untested drugs and an unregulated market. The Government’s position is clear, as I believe this House’s is. No one will be allowed to sell psychoactive products unless it can be shown that those products pose no more than a low risk of harm. Passing this bill will ensure that these products cannot be sold to children, that they cannot be sold from dairies, and that there are robust controls on what is in them and how they can be marketed.

Normally, I would take 10 minutes in this debate, but as we go into the school holidays it is my concern that there are products there on our wharves that are going to flood the New Zealand market, to be used to create a black market, and to drop prices in supermarkets. I will not speak for a single moment longer in this House and put children’s lives at risk. I commend this bill to the House.

IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) : This is a great day. Our communities up and down New Zealand will be celebrating because this is the day that we legislate to get drugs out of dairies, and I have to say that it has been a long time coming. I am appalled by that Government over there, which has prioritised creating more opportunities to gamble and increasing the harm related to gambling ahead of this legislation, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, which is designed to reduce drug-related harm. That is a shocking indictment on that Government’s priorities, and it saddens me. It saddens me that this excellent piece of legislation, which communities have been waiting for, which people working in the drug and alcohol treatment sector have been waiting for, and which, indeed, the people working in this industry who want to see a regulated, smart, cowboy-free industry have been waiting for for so very long. And once again—this has been the theme of this legislation and the way that this Government has managed this legislation—we are rushing it.

We are rushing one of the most worthwhile pieces of legislation that have appeared in the world of drug regulation in a very long time. This Government places such a low priority on reducing drug-related harm that it is rushing it in the last minute in the last hour before we go on a 2-week adjournment. It is an outrage. It is an outrage that the Government puts such a low priority on keeping our children safe that it is rushing this legislation. Every moment of this process has been rushed. The Government left it for 2 long years after the Law Commission presented its recommendations. The Government brought this legislation to the House in February, and it sat on the Table for month after month after month, sitting way down on the Order Paper because there were other things that were more important to this Government than reducing the harm related to drugs. Then the Government made us rush the select committee process. We could not hear all the submitters, and we did not have time to get everything right. Then the Associate Minister of Health Todd McClay presents amendments handwritten at the last minute of the Committee stage.

And then we get to today. We are selling legislation to Skycity. Binding future Parliaments to not be able to address gambling-related harm is an issue of greater priority to the National Government than reducing drug-related harm. That is an outrage.

Melissa Lee : Calm down.

IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY : That Government should hang its head in shame. Melissa Lee wants me to drop my voice. I will not drop my voice. I am angry at you, Melissa Lee. I am angry at that Government because that Government does not have the interests of our communities at heart. That is why I am shouting, Melissa Lee, because this could have been great legislation. This could have been a marvellous step forward for drug regulation in New Zealand. This could have been the opportunity to not only get the drugs out of our dairies but also create for the first time a legal, regulated market designed to reduce the harm associated with drugs. It will do that, but the attitude this Government has taken is just appalling. It has dithered, it has wasted time, and here we are, rushing this through right after that Government has voted to increase harm to our communities by allowing more gambling and selling off legislation to a corporation—outrageous.

I do support this legislation. I think it is a good bill. It has been a very long time coming. I am pleased that members around the House have seen through some of the distractions and the things that have divided us to eventually get to a piece of legislation that we can all support. Although this does do the job of getting the drugs out of dairies, there are a few things that could have been done better. One of those is to deal with the issue of possession. This is about creating a regulated market and ensuring that the manufacturers and sellers of high-risk substances get everything that they deserve, and that those who continue to flout the law get everything that they deserve. That is where we should be focusing our attention, not on the young people who find themselves in possession of these substances. It does nothing to advance the cause of this legislation to make the possession of an unapproved substance an offence, and it does nothing to fine those people. In fact, it will be an absolutely unenforceable component of this legislation. So I hope that in the future we will see fit to decriminalise the possession of these substances.

The other thing I am concerned about is the new transition period that the Minister dumped on the Table at the very last minute. The Minister who was not the originator of the bill, the Minister who took no part in the select committee process, and the Minister who is a johnny-come-lately to this legislation and dumped at the very last minute a change to the transition period. It is a transition period that was deliberately designed to avoid a black market. I have noticed that the National Party has been throwing around today the idea that a black market might be created. The only thing that will create a black market is prohibition. My fear is that because we did not have time to properly consider all the consequences and unintended consequences of the Minister’s amendment, what we may discover is that by reducing that transition period down to 3 months a black market is precisely what the result will be. I am hoping that is not the case. I am hoping that the Minister is right, and that the manufacturers of substances that are up for approval will be able to prove within that 3-month period that they have made some steps towards initiating clinical trials and that the Minister will then see fit to allow those substances to stay on the shelf, because what is really important is that the low-risk substances do stay in the regulated legal market. The last thing we want to do is create a black market by having effective prohibition being the result of this legislation.

One of the aspects of this Psychoactive Substances Bill is a review after a maximum of 5 years. That is a good idea given that this is innovative and world-leading legislation. We need to have a review after 5 years to see whether we have got it right. There are a couple of things that I think are absolutely necessary in that review, if not before. The first is to consider the possibility of applying an excise tax to these substances. It is what we do with tobacco. It is what we do with alcohol. It is a good way of, one, raising revenue to fund the addiction services that may be needed to deal with the problems relating to these and other substances, and, two, using price as a demand-limiting control. We failed to do that with the alcohol legislation. We do it very well with tobacco. I think it should be applied to these substances as well. But I appreciate that we need to have a look at the pricing points and we need to look at what the appropriate way of using an excise tax is.

Finally, what I want to see is what the Law Commission actually originally envisaged, and that is a comprehensive review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. It is outdated. It is outmoded. It may have been appropriate in 1975, but it is not appropriate in 2013. In fact, the Misuse of Drugs Act is doing more harm than good in the 21st century. All we have done here is actually create an added layer. So now we will have some high-risk substances that are legal, some high-risk substances that are illegal, some low-risk substances that are legal, and some low-risk substances that are illegal. If that sounds confusing to people, it is because it is. Our drug legislation is utterly confusing, and what we really need is—better than this, more than this—a true review of the Misuse of Drugs Act. But for now, because this bill will get the—

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER : Order! The member’s time has expired.

Hon PETER DUNNE (Independent—Ōhariu) : Given the exigencies of time, my call will be a brief one. I do not need to feign my delight this afternoon as the author and the originator of this bill, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, to see it finally pass into law. It is a world first. It is the creation of the regulated market that the member Iain Lees-Galloway, who angrily preceded me, referred to. It will put in place an environment within which these pernicious substances that are doing so much damage to our young people can be removed from the shelves immediately. There are issues for the future relating to the breadth of its scope in terms of other issues, and also the issues that the member Iain Lees-Galloway raised relating to excise tax and the general treatment of these products moving forward, that I think do merit consideration. That is for another day. What is important now is that this legislation is passed and is implemented, so that the temporary bans on various substances that I implemented over the last couple of years do not expire and we start to see those products come back on to the shelves.

Can I acknowledge the work of current Associate Minister of Health Todd McClay and can I acknowledge the support of the House. This is a good day for New Zealand communities, and that is something the previous speaker and I do agree on. Many people will be saying: “This is long-overdue legislation. Let’s get it in place, let’s make our community safe for our kids, and let’s move forward.”, and I am with them on that.

CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) : Thousands of New Zealanders are watching tonight, wanting this bill, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, to pass because it is a really important piece of legislation. It is about getting a horrible, toxic, poisonous set of drugs out of our dairies, out of our lives, and dealing to an issue that I think everyone in this House acknowledges is really important.

It is just such a contradiction to the previous piece of legislation, the New Zealand International Convention Centre Bill. None of the Government members in this House today want to get up and talk about this important piece of legislation, but they wanted to speak about the last piece of legislation, which was about keeping another major problem in our community and making it worse. So on the one hand we are trying to take out toxic, poisonous drugs from our dairies, and on the other hand we are increasing another toxic problem in our society—that is, problem gambling. Those members should be ashamed of that, and they should be ashamed that they did not take a conscience vote, a personal vote, on that issue. It is a conscience vote, and it just shows that the people across the House do not have a conscience.

This bill is important. I am proud to be speaking on it. I am proud to be part of a caucus that has worked really hard on this bill. We have got some people on our side of the House—Iain Lees-Galloway and Annette King being two of them—who have worked really hard during the select committee process to make sure that this is a much better piece of legislation, and who have made sure that we have made this bill a better bill and a better law that will go into our community and will take these drugs out of the community.

I also want to commend the Greens for the amendment that they put forward on animal testing. We did support that amendment. We do not want these drugs to be tested on animals. National refused to give up animal testing, but we in Labour are proud of the fact that our MPs were able to get the Government to agree to changes to the bill to ensure that there were alternatives to animal testing—that alternatives exist that cannot be used in the evaluation of these substances. Although Mojo Mathers’ amendment did not pass, at least there will be some safeguards now around that animal testing.

I have received emails all day today from people about this bill, as well as emails about the other bill that passed its first reading in the House before the debate on this bill—as, no doubt, has every member in this House. They are emails from people who are raising the issues and are talking about the increased harm that is happening as a result of the taking of these substances. I am going to read to you one of those emails that I received this afternoon. It said: “I have ongoing concerns with people who use these drugs and who have future access to them, increasing burdens on health care providers and patients suffering clinical effects related to psychosis withdrawal symptoms, which can prevail for weeks, and addiction. There has already been a noticeable increase over recent months, but will most likely increase.”

When I stood up in the Chamber in the Committee stage, I showed members a report from the National Poisons Centre on the number of calls on these substances that had been coming in in the last year. I have got another table to hold up today, which shows in red the number of calls for June. It shows that it has gone down very, very slightly from May, but there has been a huge increase in the last few months in the number of calls that have come into the National Poisons Centre about these psychoactive substances. The reason for that may be related to the increased publicity around this bill, but health professionals are sending us warnings that as politicians we have to put in place legislation, and along with legislation comes the need for increased resources in our health sector to deal with the effects of these psychoactive substances, and in our mental health sector, and we also need to look at what is happening with the increase in crime related to the use of these substances.

I will just read to you the latest report that has come in. It says: “The rates of calls to the National Poisons Centre have remained high”—and this is for June—“continuing trends since April 2013. Adverse symptoms reported in April and May, notably acute kidney injuries, seizures, and acute psychosis, have continued to occur during June, with a further observation of an emerging trend of delayed seizures that are increasingly difficult to control.” These drugs are doing serious harm—harm that is not being seen done by other drugs. “Ongoing discussions and meetings with emergency departments, medical centres, and other health care providers also report increasing burdens on their services by users of these drugs. Rates of attending patients are continuing to rise—in particular, patients suffering addiction and withdrawal effects. With the banning of all present designer drugs in July, the National Poisons Centre anticipates this demand on health care services will continue to increase.”

It goes on to say: “The National Poisons Centre continues to be concerned by the rates of reported adverse effects following exposure to these analogues. Although the introduction of the new legislation this month will ban present designer drugs being legally sold, there will be ongoing burdens on health care providers, with patients suffering adverse psychiatric effects, which in some patients will be permanent, and issues centred on addiction and withdrawal syndrome.”

Throughout the whole of the discussion on this bill, I have asked over and over again, as have a number of my colleagues—we ensured that it was mentioned in the commentary to this bill—where the comparable resources are that are going to be put from the health sector into the need for what is going to happen after these drugs are banned and what we are seeing right now. The health professionals tell us that there is increasing need and that there are no more resources being put in. There is an increasing burden happening as a result of this. I ask the question again, in the House today: where are the extra resources that will be put in?

We support this bill. We know it is an important bill. We know that it has got a lot of measures in it that are changing the way that we are treating our attitude to drugs in this country. We are looking at it from a harm minimisation perspective, which is a healthy and constructive and positive thing to do. I just want to quickly say that the purpose of going into a couple of those measures—and I know that my colleague Iain Lees-Galloway and other colleagues on the Health Committee worked hard on this, on changing parts of the legislation, particularly around the purpose, which now reads: “The purpose of this Act is to regulate the availability of psychoactive substances in New Zealand.” That was what was originally said, but they added the words “to protect the health of, and minimise harm to, individuals who use psychoactive substances.”

Those are such important words—the minimising of harm. It is moving the effect of drug taking into the health sector. We need to be looking more across the spectrum of the drugs that are being taken in New Zealand and the harm that is occurring, and looking at it from the perspective of harm minimisation. We need to be looking at other social harms that are occurring, such as problem gambling. This Parliament today could have done a brave thing and it could have addressed problem gambling as well as psychoactive substances. Instead, it has cancelled out, more or less, what we are achieving with psychoactive substances and is increasing problem gambling in New Zealand.

KEVIN HAGUE (Green) : In the interests of ensuring that this bill, the Psychoactive Substances Bill, is passed today, I am going to take a somewhat shorter call than I would otherwise have done. This bill is one that takes New Zealand a substantial step forward towards the kind of drug law reform that we need. It puts the emphasis on reducing harm and improving health—that, rather than criminal justice, being the point of the regulation. It places the emphasis very much on the supply chain for these substances, rather than on the end user. It makes the regulatory response proportional to the risk that is associated with a particular substance. Those are all good things. Those are all things that we need to apply to drugs, currently both legal and illegal, across the board. I look forward to the opportunity of it doing that.

This could have been a great bill. [Interruption ] Not quite, Barbara. It could have been a great bill, but there are three major problems that hold it back from that. I am disappointed that the Government either has not understood its own bill or has needed to appease different factions within its own camp, which has resulted in these problems. One is the issue of animal testing, about which I have spoken and colleagues across the House have spoken, and I acknowledge John Banks’ particularly passionate support on that particular issue. The Green Party’s Supplementary Order Paper 260 on the bill would have ensured the same level of protection for humans but would have also resulted in protecting animals from harm, and it is a source of considerable regret that the House did not take the opportunity to ensure that that occurred.

The issue of possession was introduced almost at the last moment by the Government, against the advice of the Ministry of Health and in contradiction of the evidence that we have seen in relation to the Misuse of Drugs Act—and, indeed, the temporary prohibition notices—that possession offences do not assist with the purpose of this bill, which is to reduce harm and promote health. What is more, as I demonstrated at the Committee stage, those possession offences that are in this bill are essentially not only more hassle than any benefit that they provide, if at all, but also they are entirely unworkable.

Finally, if I thought possession was last minute, actually there is a last-second amendment by the Associate Minister of Health Todd McClay to drastically shorten the transition period for the bill. As a result of that, the very careful balance that was struck by the Health Committee, between trying to move as quickly as possible to regulate these substances, in the way that I have described, and at the same time ensure that the flood of substances that have been legal but will not be legal under the new regime does not result in an underground market for those substances has been entirely overturned on the basis of the Minister attending a meeting in Invercargill. I believe that that will come back to bite the Minister and come back to bite the Government, and I urge the Minister to try to find some way of ameliorating the problem that he has created. Thank you.

Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) : It is a great pleasure to stand and support the third reading of the Psychoactive Substances Bill. Submissions from throughout the country supported this bill, none more so than that of the Mayor of Timaru, who said this was the No. 1 problem in her community. I want to finish by saying thank you to all those who constructively worked towards this bill. I commend it to the House.

BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) : I stand to take a call on behalf of New Zealand First on the Psychoactive Substances Bill. New Zealand First believes that ideally these products should have been banned. We are realistic and we know that this cannot and will not occur at this particular point. However, this bill is a very positive step forward from the situation that actually exists at this point in time. We want this bill passed today. We are sick of seeing the damage and the harm that is created among our young people from these particular drugs. It is ironic that the manufacturers, the importers, and the dairies are getting wealthier and wealthier at the expense of young people’s health right here in New Zealand.

We have to congratulate those dairies that acted before this bill actually came into the House and stopped the sale of these substances. Of course, we have to recognise the Waikato town of Pūtāruru, which has actually banned synthetic highs from its town—so well done, Pūtāruru.

There is a whole range of regulations that will stop the manufacturers from their merry trip around with these particular drugs. We want the bill passed. It will provide greater transparency. It will improve the health of New Zealanders, once these substances have to be proven to be safe. We want young people to be safe. We care for our young people. These substances have basically been an outrageous assault on our young people, which we in this House have let happen, so this bill is an important step forward. New Zealand First supports this bill.

Dr JIAN YANG (National) : The Psychoactive Substances Bill is an excellent bill. I commend it to the House. Thanks.

KRIS FAAFOI (Labour—Mana) : Well, I do have to agree with the one thing that that member, Jian Yang, said, which was that the Psychoactive Substances Bill is an excellent bill.

Hon Member : It was only one.

KRIS FAAFOI : It was just that one thing. Many months ago I went to a meeting in my electorate and met the principal of Bishop Viard College, a good Catholic college in my electorate. Teresa Cargo, the principal there, highlighted her concern about synthetic cannabis and the awful effects that it was having in her classrooms. She spoke of the students who were constantly stoned under the effect of K2, I think it was, at that stage, and also her concerns about the approaches that were being made to the students. Many of her students were not going to the local dairies or the tobacconists to buy their K2; they were actually being approached in the streets, under the canopies in the centre of Porirua, by people on the street selling K2 to them, targeting young students in uniform, and she was very concerned about this.

This is an excellent bill for the community of Mana. I also want to praise the other principals in Porirua who at the meeting also raised concerns. Many of them were actually primary school principals, who were talking about the effects that not just some of the students had been displaying in their classrooms but, unfortunately, some of their parents. So today is a victory for those communities.

I would also like to praise the work of the local Porirua City councillor Wayne Poutoa, who runs the Streets Ahead 237 scheme in Porirua. He is another person, another leader, in my community who came forward and proactively came to me and said: “Look, we have got some kids, some teenagers, who are vulnerable.” He looks after them and he was very concerned about the effects that synthetic cannabis was having on some of the young people that he was looking after. Teresa Cargo, Wayne Poutoa, and Paul Basham, who is the local area commander for the Kapiti-Mana region, were three leaders of the Porirua community who came together and wanted this House to do something swiftly about synthetic cannabis. That is why today is a victory for many communities around the country.

I also pay tribute to some of whom I call the responsible retailers in the Porirua area, who responded to a letter that I sent out asking them not to sell synthetic cannabis any more. They were perfectly within their legal rights to do so, but because of the concern that was obviously there in the community that I have mentioned before, they took a proactive step and took the product off their shelves. To those dairy owners who did not, and willingly did not, I think they should have a good look at themselves. Obviously they were legally entitled to do this, but they were well aware of the harm that was being done in our communities and they actively kept selling synthetic cannabis. One good thing out of this bill is that they will no longer be able to do that.

Those concerned people in our communities have been waiting a fair amount of time to have this bill passed. As the member previously said, this is an excellent bill, but if there are some criticisms about how this bill has gone through the House, one of them is that it has taken far too long. The recommendations out of the Law Commission report that basically were the base of this bill were presented to this Parliament about 2½ years ago. We had to wait 2½ years for this Government to prioritise it, and we had the communities getting up in arms, all these young people had all these bad effects, and we had the disruption to classrooms and the disruptions and the rubbish in our streets and our homes, before we took some serious action.

So although I do want to praise Peter Dunne, who was the Minister originally responsible for this bill, there also has to be some scepticism as to why this was not given higher priority, given some of the other bills that this Government prioritised ahead of the Psychoactive Substances Bill. This bill languished on the Order Paper for well over 12 months when this Government could have done something much sooner to take this stuff off the streets. Looking around the House, I am pretty sure that everyone in this House is supporting this bill, but we have had to wait so long for us to get—

Hon Trevor Mallard : I don’t think John Banks is.

KRIS FAAFOI : OK, maybe I stand corrected. But we had to wait so long for this bill to get to where we are. I praise MPs right around the House who have taken action—

Dr Paul Hutchison : Worked constructively.

KRIS FAAFOI : —and constructive action. I thank Dr Paul Hutchison, the chair of the Health Committee. And well done, as well, to the members on the Health Committee who have taken proactive action within their own communities, like I did, in order to make sure that before this legislation was passed we did as much as we could to reduce the harm, especially to our youngsters in our communities. I think that showed not just leadership in this House but also that we were listening to our communities to make sure they were much, much safer.

I also heap praise, as I already have, not only on my local police force but on police right around the country. I know, certainly listening to public debate, that they have been working hard, and I guess there may have been a bit of sense of frustration on their behalf that this law had not been passed sooner. But they were dealing with the rough end of the stick here because this House had not done something sooner. They were dealing with the crime that was being caused, they were dealing with the disruption, and, unfortunately, they were dealing with some violence amongst families because people were taking this drug. You should not be able to walk into a dairy in this country and legally buy something that gets you high. That should not be fine. I think that if there is a criticism of this House from the public, it is that this House should have some done something much, much faster.

As you heard from my colleague Clare Curran, the National Poisons Centre has had a huge spike in requests for help in terms of synthetic cannabis. If that is not a sign for this House that something should have happened much, much sooner, I do not know what we would need to see.

This is a good day. It is a victory for our communities right around the country, many of whom have taken positive action and protested outside their local dairies that have been selling it. Many have asked for a responsible retailing regime within their own communities to make sure that across the board we can identify those retailers who have taken responsible action and said that it is not OK to sell this rubbish in our communities.

I do want to also back up a point Clare Curran made. We also need to make sure that there are the resources within our communities to follow up this law, and if there is one criticism or one point I do want to make, it is that police are under so much pressure at the moment with resources that they need to be given the backing to make sure they can go out and give effect to this legislation that we are passing today. Paul Hutchison made an interjection earlier—it was not necessarily heckling—and I would like to pay tribute to the Health Committee.

Hon Trevor Mallard : It was shocking that they didn’t hear the submissions.

KRIS FAAFOI : I have not finished yet. I used to be a member on the Health Committee in the previous Parliament and I found that Mr Hutchison always acted with dignity. I thank the Health Committee for its work and for making sure that most of the submissions were listened to. I know there is some scepticism as to why some submissions around animal testing were not heard, and that is something that this side of the House is very disappointed about.

This bill is a victory for communities. They have put up with a fair bit of rubbish, but today we are getting through this House a piece of legislation that will, hopefully, stop that rubbish from being in our streets, our schools, and our homes.

SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) : As a member of the Health Committee, I am very pleased to take a very brief call on the third reading of the Psychoactive Substances Bill. Others have congratulated the originator of the bill, Peter Dunne, Associate Minister of Health Todd McClay, and, of course, the chairman of the select committee, Paul Hutchison. Today when this bill is passed, communities up and down the countryside, and in Coromandel, will be safer and our youth will be better off for it. This is a very good bill, and I commend it to the House.

A party vote was called for on the question, That the Psychoactive Substances Bill be now read a third time.

Ayes 119New Zealand National 59; New Zealand Labour 33; Green Party 14; New Zealand First 7; Māori Party 3; Mana 1; Independents: Dunne, Horan.
Noes 1ACT New Zealand 1.
Bill read a third time.