Wellington Local Approved Products Policy submissions

The Wellington City Council is calling for submissions on its Local Approved Products Policy (LAPP). For those of you who aren’t down with the lingo that means the WCC is going to be regulating where New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) (aka ‘legal highs’) can be sold in our city.

Some background: last year the Government passed the Psychoactive Substances Act, the first piece of legislation globally that flipped the onus of proof onto NPS manufacturers to prove the substances were safe before they were allowed to be sold. Hallelujah. It was supposed to solve the legal high conundrum. Plenty has been written about this law else where and we can argue about whether it is working or not, but it’s the law so it goes.

When the Health Select Committee reported the bill back to the House it wedged a provision about local councils being able to to regulate where stores that were licensed to sell approved products could operate through a LAPP. This regulatory power is very limited and kind of an after thought based on controls for the sale of liquor. I’m not so sure it was the right move, but politically local councils were crying for some power to be able to control (read knee-jerk reactions to get rid of the evil menace of legal highs) in their communities. So the sections were dumped in and then not much work happened around helping Councils create LAPPs. There was one stoush between the Minister in charge of the Psychoactive Substances Act, Peter Dunne, and Napier Mayor Bill Dalton. I’m not sure who is right. But from Dalton’s comments it appears he doesn’t understand the law, go figure.

Anyway, some Councils who will remain nameless… oh who am I kidding, it was Hamilton City Council… tried to make it so that no legal high stores would be able to open in city. They promptly were taken to court by the Legal High industry. I’m not sure where this is at anymore but it’s more than likely the Council have or will have to back down.

So there has been a bit of confusion and a bit of fear and a bit of politicking around these substances for a while.

Which brings us to the WCC’s proposed LAPP, full PDF here. It has put forward four options.

My preferred option, that I have already submitted in favour of, is option three (pictured below).


While options one and two wouldn’t be the end of the world*, and would limit where products — if any make it through the testing regime — could be sold, I think  option three is the better option.

The substances which will be sold under the new regulations and testing process will be unlike the smokeable synthetic cannabinoids, or whatever else, that were being sold totally unregulated before the law as passed or in the interim period.

It is likely these substances, while mind altering, will by definition and by admission of the Ministry of Health be low risk, and that means lower risk than alcohol or tobacco. They are likely to be fairly innocuous, and because of the way the law works, can be recalled at any time if they start to show more than a low risk of harm.

Because these new psychoactive products will have to go through a testing process to gain a license to be sold, thus becoming an ‘approved product’, it is unlikely that many products will hit the shelves all at once. It is more likely to be a slow dribble of products and we’re not like to see the diverse array of products we did when they were totally unregulated.

I think this response from Clare Bowen is weird and fear mongering and she obviously does not have a good understanding of the law. She also doesn’t seemed worried about the amount of damage (to property and people) that drunk people do to the same area. If you’re reading this Clare, I’m happy to chat.

The point being, that the menacing spectre of “congregations of people wanting psychoactive substances” moping around outside these stores is no more likely, and probably less likely, than people congregating outside the five or so stores that sell booze on the same strip as option three. Speaking of alcohol…

The Cuba/Dixon/Manners/Courtenay area is pretty well covered in surveillance because of the high levels of alcohol consumption. It is well-lit, and there is generally a heavy police presence at risky times like Friday and Saturday nights.

The closer proximity of shops means that it will be easier to police any fall out from people using approved products and scrutinise whether shops are breaking other parts of the Psychoactive Substances Act (selling to under 18s, promoting products etc etc).

It will also mean that if the substances do turn out to have negative impacts then it is easier to do public health interventions and offer people help. Rather than sending down multiple addiction specialists over many sites, you can send down one to one confined area.

Confining the area is also another issue. Options one and two spread where stores can theoretically be across the southern end of Wellington. In both cases, stores could be in predominantly residential areas at the bottom of Mount Victoria and upper Cuba.


One of the main points of contention before the Psychoactive Substances Act was passed was corner dairies and pop-ups selling these products in residential areas. In theory, options one and two would allow stores to open up on the fringes of residential areas, whereas option three distinctly limits the stores to the main drags of the entertainment areas.

This theoretical spacing is interesting too. While I agree with the council that we should keep shops selling approved products (and alcohol) away from schools and all the other ‘sensitive sites’ there is no way the shops are going to be dotted around Wellington as uniformly as the red dots on the above diagrams. I find it amusing that in option two there is a red dot down what is essentially an alleyway.

There are other factors at play with the spacing of shops. The first one is gaining a license to sell approved products.

Given that all licenses to sell products have been revoked, people who want to sell ’em will probably have to apply for the licenses again. Also, the requirements to get a license to sell are pretty tough. So it’s unlikely that every Tom, Dorothy, and Harry will be getting licenses to sell.

The second factor links back to the speed at which products go through the testing process. No retail store is going to be able to set up if it is just selling one product. It is more than likely that the market for this will be met through internet sales which cannot be controlled through a LAPP.

Another is available retail space. There are many vacant retail spaces around the proposed areas in options one and two, but there are not many vacant stores in option three.

While landlords and building owners will probably be hesitant to house a store selling approved products due to public backlash, there will be some, especially in yellow-stickered buildings that have been without tenants for a while who will jump at the chance to have some rent money coming in.

In the perfect universe of the maps option three has 31 dots where shops could go. It is unlikely that given available space it would work out quite like that.

On that note, I’m also not sure why the council dropped the distance between shops down so low for option three given that the other two options only have 20 or so dots. Is this a misrepresentation to make option three unappealing? Regardless, you could bump up the minimum distance between shops from 60 metres to 80 or 100. This would bring it back inline with the maximum of 20 or so shops in the other two options.

31 shops is heaps. Even 20 something shops is a bit a stretch. I think at most we’ll see the two Cosmic stores go back to selling products (because they have other revenue streams) and maybe a handful of others, especially if option three is taken up.

Another thought is that if Option one or two get the go ahead there could be challenges (perhaps legal as well as bureaucratic) to the council if some one wants to open a store in the wider area and it’s down a back alley (not good for the stated purpose of controlling where the shops are) or right on the edge of the allowable area (why not keep it as far away as possible from the sensitive sites) or when two businesses are applying to open at the same time etc etc. It is better to lock it down to the storefronts of option three. That way there are no back alley stores out of sight, no stores near sensitive sites, and arguments about distance become a matter of getting out a tape measure.

In saying that, intensity is a concern. But realistically if you have two stores the furthest possible distance away it’s still only a five minute walk away for anyone who wants to get their hands on the products. Better to have them all in one central place where above arguments of policing, intervention, and scrutiny can apply.

To sum up: We should control the sale of these products as much as possible. Option three confines the retail sale of products to the smallest and best place (in terms of policing, intervention, and scrutiny) possible. It will minimise the amount Council and retailers quibble about where stores can go. The situation regarding “congregations” won’t be as bad as the likes of Clare Bowen are making out. There won’t be a sudden influx of drug pushers into Wellington, more than likely a few shops will open up and no one will notice. We’ve tried pushing the issue of legal highs under the mat for so long, it’s time to deal with them in an evidence-based and well thought out way that minimises harm. Option three will do that.

So in terms of submission I’ve put mine here. Feel free to copy or take from it and this blog post what you will.

You have until 5pm on Friday 12 December 2014 to send in a submission.


*Option four — do nothing — should be immediately discarded as an option if you feel the community should be trying to gain some semblance of control over where these products can be sold.

One Comment on "Wellington Local Approved Products Policy submissions"

  1. Thanks for this, Jackson.

    I don’t have strong priors on this one on harm reduction. I expect that the most important consideration is ensuring that there is not substantial political economy blowback: that keeping voter complaints to a minimum is most important in ensuring the sustainability of the policy. On those grounds, I expect that concentration within Cuba Street would be more offensive to more people than spaced-out shops in more places; I also expect that there could be perhaps pernicious interaction between one of the main bar districts also being the place to go and get synthetic highs: I’m not sure to what extent the interaction between the newly approved drugs and alcohol will have been assessed.

    On those grounds, I lean towards Option 2. But again, my priors are pretty weak.