WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand on Wednesday reversed course on allowing some designer drugs to be legally sold after a public outcry about the toll they were taking.
A law change effective Thursday will ban the sale and possession of all synthetic drugs. That ends the sale of 36 substances, many of which had been designed to mimic marijuana. Five other substances were banned earlier this year.
The changes come after some people said the drugs were addictive and were causing community disorder and violence. Tens of thousands of people signed various petitions opposing the drugs or plans to test them on animals.
The country last year gained international attention after enacting a novel new law that allowed those synthetic drugs thought to be low-risk to be sold while waiting for pharmaceutical-style testing.
The law still allows manufacturers to sell the drugs if they can prove them low-risk after rigorous testing. But health officials have yet to develop testing protocols. And manufacturers may find the hurdles insurmountable after lawmakers on Wednesday also banned the use of animals in testing the products.
"The mistake at the passing of this legislation was that 41 products were given interim licenses because there'd been no complaints, no records of harm, no belief that any of these substances caused any concern," said Health Minister Tony Ryall in an interview with The Associated Press. "What's become quite clear in the subsequent nine months or so is that they were causing harm."
Ryall said manufacturers would need to decide if they wanted to pursue the approval protocols but he would be happy if they didn't.
"It's not going to worry me if someone doesn't want to do it because of the cost or anything, because actually I don't think we should have these substances if we can avoid it," he said.
Ryall said health officials had been surprised to find the size of the market for the drugs, estimated at about 140 million New Zealand dollars ($122 million) a year. He said health professionals will help the 200 people known to have become severely addicted to the drugs.
Like many countries, New Zealand has been inundated with designer drugs in recent years and often has found itself a step behind the manufacturers. Once a drug is declared illegal, a maker often alters its composition slightly to create a new, legal compound. Ryall believes the new rules will stop that from happening.
Other drugs like marijuana and cocaine were already illegal in New Zealand and not subject to the law changes.