Manufacturers of legal highs could face lengthy prison sentences if they are found to be selling banned substances, the Government announced today.
Associate Minister of Health, Peter Dunne said tougher penalties for manufacturers of legal highs, including synthetic cannabis products, would be in place by the middle of next year.
Legal high manufacturers will face estimated $180,000 application fees plus $1 million to $2 million in testing costs for each product they want to sell, and manufacturers could face up to eight years in prison for selling banned substances, Mr Dunne said in Parliament today when he announced details of the permanent psychoactive substances regime.
"I make no apologies for setting the bar high on public safety and putting in place a regime with the process costs squarely on the legal highs industry, and not the taxpayer,'' Mr Dunne said.
"I have said all along that this regime will be fundamentally based on reversing the onus of proof so those who profit from these products will have to prove they are as safe as is possible for psychoactive substances. We will no longer play the cat-and-mouse game of constantly chasing down substances after they are on the market.''
Penalties under the new regime will include up to eight years in prison for importing, manufacturing, supplying or possession with intent to supply analogues of controlled drugs that come under the Misuse of Drugs Act, and up to two years for import, manufacture, supply or possession with intent to supply unapproved substances.
Labelling and packaging requirements will require all products to have a label listing their active ingredients, the phone number for the National Poisons Centre and contact details for the product's New Zealand manufacturer or supplier.
"To date, there has been no ingredient information, so no one who buys these products has the first clue what is in them, which is as ridiculous as it is dangerous and irresponsible,'' Mr Dunne said.
"We have had considerable success with the Temporary Class Drug Notices that we instituted in August last year. They have taken 28 substances and more than 50 synthetic cannabis products off the market, but that was always a
temporary measure until we could get this regime in place.''
Mr Dunne said he will introduce the required legislation later this year and it is expected to be in place by the middle of next year.
In the meantime, all existing temporary notices will be rolled over so they remain in effect until the permanent regime is in place.
Other key features of the new regime that have been approved by Cabinet include:
* Personal possession of an unapproved product will incur a $300 fine.
* There will be a minimum purchase age of 18.
* No advertising except at point of sale.
* Restrictions on outlets, including barring dairies from selling such products, and labelling and packaging requirements.