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BZP to be banned

28 June 2007

BZP to be banned

Jim Anderton announces at a press conference that it is the Government's intention to make BZP illegal – Scoop image

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Jim Anderton, Associate Minister of Health and Leader of the Progressive Party, announced today that the Cabinet had agreed to his recommendation to ban BZP and related party pills.

“At the same time, a direction has been given for officials to continue work already begun with the Law Commission to require manufacturers to prove that these types of psychoactive substances are safe before they are allowed to be sold,” Jim Anderton said. “In addition, a complete review of the Misuse of Drugs Act, which has been advocated by many in the sector for some time, has also been approved by Cabinet. This is to be completed by December 2008 and will be aimed at providing a better, more coherent and rational legal framework for the law surrounding the implementation of, and penalties for, the misuse of drugs.

“The research, analysis of submissions, advice from experts and agencies such as Police, Justice, Customs and Health all added up, in my view, to a ban and I took that recommendation to my Cabinet colleagues.

“The Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs, which has the statutory task of assessing drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act and making recommendations to me as Minister, recommended that BZP and related substances should be classified Class C1. This means anyone supplying, manufacturing and exporting these products will be liable to a penalty of up to a maximum of eight years imprisonment.

“Cabinet was mindful that these products have been legally available for some years and, while wanting to stop both their manufacture and sale as a matter of urgency, did not wish to immediately criminalise those who may still have some of these substances in their possession for personal use.

“Those found in possession of a Class C1 drug are normally liable to a maximum of three months imprisonment and/or up to a $500 fine.

“Therefore, while a decision has been made to classify BZP as Class C1, which will stop the current legal manufacture and sale of these products, there will be an amnesty for possession for personal use for a period of six months from the date on which new legislation is passed. In effect there will be an amnesty for six months for those who are found in possession of less than five grams for their own personal use,” Jim Anderton said.

“The classification to C1, including the six month amnesty, will be made via amendments to the Misuse of Drugs legislation, rather than continuing down the affirmative resolution Order in Council process. The legislative amendment process ensures full Parliamentary scrutiny of this matter.

“Drafting instructions have been given, and as the drafting is relatively straightforward, the Bill is expected to be introduced to the House of Representatives in the very near future and I hope to see its passage before the end of 2007.”


Frequently asked questions about BZP

What were the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs (EACD) recommendations which have been accepted by Cabinet?

The recommendations made by the EACD were:
 That BZP be classified under Schedule 3, Part 1 (Class C1) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 (MODA)
 That the classification as a Class C1 drug covers all known analogues and derivatives of benzylpiperazine and phenylpiperazine that have no therapeutic use
 That benzylpiperazine be removed from Schedule 4 of the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 2005 in order that it no longer be a Restricted Substance
 That work continues to further develop the regulatory framework and enforcement capacity that would support the Restricted Substances provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 2005.

What other substances are currently classified as Class C1?

Schedule 3, Part 1 of MODA contains a range of illegal substances that are deemed to pose a moderate risk of harm and have no therapeutic purpose. These include:
 Cannabis fruit, plant and seed
 Coca leaf
 Catha edulis plant (‘khat’)

Will there still be provision for other restricted substances, once BZP and related party pills are classified as controlled drugs?

Yes. The Restricted Substances Part and Schedule to the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 2005 will remain in place. The EACD advice, which has been accepted by the Associate Minister of Health, is that work continues to further develop the regulatory framework and enforcement capacity that would support the Restricted Substances provisions of the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 2005. Some initial discussion with the Law Commission and the Legislative Design Committee has commenced around strengthening controls on future products that come onto the market in the way BZP and related party pills did i.e. without any responsibility on suppliers to provide adequate data of their effects or safety.

What does the government intend to do about new psychoactive substances?

A classification of BZP and related substances is unlikely to remove the market for legal psychoactive substances in New Zealand. It is likely that new products with an unknown chemical composition will be introduced to replace BZP. As part of the MODA review, a legislative framework will be considered that places the onus of proof on the sponsor of a new substance that is to be marketed as inducing a psychoactive response, to establish the safety of the substance before it can be legally sold in New Zealand. Currently when a new substance comes on the market, it can be sold and supplied without restriction until the government determines its safety profile and either lists it as a restricted substance or as a controlled drug.

Why is there a need to review the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975?
It is clear there is a need for a complete review of the Misuse of Drugs legislation aimed at providing a better and more coherent, rational legal framework surrounding the prevention of the misuse of drugs.

How long will the review take?
It is intended that this review will be completed by the end of 2008.

What are the parameters of the review?
There have been no parameters set, however, the intention is that the Law Commission will undertake a comprehensive and detailed review. However, it is likely the review will consider the underlying philosophy of the legislation, its internal consistency and its relationship to and consistency with other legislation such as the Medicines Act.

What agencies will be involved?
The review will be undertaken by the Law Commission. The lead agency involved will be the Ministry of Health with input from the Ministry of Justice, New Zealand Police, other agencies and relevant stakeholders in the sector.

Will any effort be made to bring this review in line with Australia’s drugs legislation?
I would expect the review to draw on the practices and experience of other jurisdictions including Australia. However, the solution will be a regime that is best for New Zealand.

What about alcohol and tobacco products and other drugs?
Alcohol and Tobacco are already governed by their own legislation. Illegal drugs are controlled by the Misuse of Drugs legislation and their framework will continue.

What is the process for classifying BZP and related piperazines?
The process that has been decided is the full legislative process, which means an amendment bill to the Misuse of Drugs Act with full select committee scrutiny followed by debate in the House of Representatives by all parties. Legislation is being used rather than the process known as the “affirmative resolution” process which, although a more streamlined process, does not allow for the change proposed with regard to possession for personal use of BZP and related substances. This change must be made by amendment to the MODA and cannot be made by Orders in Council.

How long will it take before the classification of BZP is in force?
The intention is that the bill will be introduced to the House of Representatives as soon as possible and passed before the end of this year.

What are the penalties, under this classification?
A C1 classification would result in penalties of:
Up to 8 years imprisonment for importation, manufacture or supply
 Up to 3 months imprisonment for possession or a $500 fine, or both
 However in the case of possession of under 5 grams or 100 tablets for personal use there will be an amnesty of 6 months from the date an amendment comes into force.

What would a classification mean for other products of this type that are being sold?
Following classification, all products sold containing BZP and related piperazines will be subject to the same penalties as other Class C1 drugs.

What is the presumption for supply level?
The presumption for supply is the level at or over which possession of a substance is deemed to be for the purposes of supply, unless proven otherwise.

What is the presumption for supply level for BZP and related substances?
The EACD recommended a presumption for supply level for BZP, phenylpiperazine and related substances at 5 grams or 100 tablets, capsules or other drug forms each containing some quantity of the substance.
The level recommended by the EACD was evidence-based and is consistent with the presumption of supply levels set for other controlled drugs in the MODA.

Isn’t 100 tablets too many for personal use?
It should be noted that even where a person possesses an amount of BZP below the recommended presumption for supply level, prosecutions for possessing BZP for supply could still be initiated. Where a person has less than 100 tablets, the onus will be on the Crown to prove that the person has the BZP for supply. Where a person has100 tablets or more, the onus will shift to the person to establish that he/she does not have the BZP for the purposes of supply.

Have any other countries classified BZP?
BZP is prohibited in the United States, the Commonwealth of Australia, Japan, Denmark, Belgium, Greece and Malta. It is controlled under a specific law on goods dangerous to health in Sweden. In the Netherlands and Spain BZP is controlled under medicines legislation. In the UK the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) announced a clampdown on those selling piperazines, warning vendors that they could face prison sentences and an unlimited fine.

What are the implications of this decision to ban BZP for stockpiling and discounting?
Once the legislation is in force, all quantities will be illegal and subject to penalties under the MODA, except for an amnesty of six months for those quantities that are under 5 grams and are for personal use. There may be some people who will consider stockpiling or discounting until the ban is in force. However, the Government expects importers and manufacturers to act responsibly.

Will there be a period of ‘grace’ before prosecutions for supply and manufacture commence?
No. Once a classification comes into effect, all offences for manufacture, sale, supply, importation and exportation against the MODA will be considered for prosecution immediately. The effective 'grace' period for manufacturers and supplies is between now and when classification comes into force.

Are we expecting an illegal trade to develop once these pills are eventually classified?

It is possible that some illegal trade could occur once these pills are classified. However, this would be dealt with in the same way as other illegal drug-related activity. Our experience with nitrous oxide (NOS) suggests that the supply and use of BZP products will decline reasonably quickly as the ban will result in diminished supplies of BZP being available.

Would the pills still be available on the Internet if classification occurred?
Any operation base in NZ would be illegal, if BZP and other piperazines are classified. It would also be illegal to import or export any piperazine preparations.

Now that the government has made a decision to ban these substances why can’t the products be taken off the shelves immediately?

The EACD has advised classification based on an assessment that these products pose a moderate level of harm and Cabinet has accepted that assessment. If the assessment had been a high level of harm, or a very high level of harm, an immediate recall of the products might well have been deemed appropriate. Legal advice is that this would not be appropriate for products posing less than a high level of harm without going through the appropriate legislative process.

What are party pills and how can they be identified?
Legal 'party pills' (also known as 'social tonics', 'herbal highs', or 'legal highs') are psychoactive substances which commonly contain the chemical benzylpiperazine (BZP) and a combination of other additives, such as amino acids. They may also contain phenylpiperazine derivatives, an example being triflouromethylphenylpiperazine (TFMPP).

Products containing BZP and related substances are currently sold from a variety of retail outlets, including specialist 'party pill' retailers, sex shops and some 24-hour convenience stores, liquor outlets, dairies and service stations.
Most of the BZP and related substances available are imported into New Zealand in bulk form and the specific products are then manufactured in New Zealand.

What are the effects of BZP?
BZP is an amphetamine-like substance with stimulant effects. Products containing BZP, either alone or in conjunction with TFMPP and other piperazines, are claimed to mimic the effects of amphetamines and MDMA (ecstasy), though at a lower level of potency.

Common effects include euphoria, energy, enhanced senses and alertness. The studies recently undertaken in New Zealand have confirmed that adverse effects of BZP and TFMPP may include insomnia, headaches, nausea and anxiety. Seizures have also been reported. There is a potential for severe toxicity in some individuals, which has been reported after relatively low doses. The effect of long-term use of ‘party pills’ containing piperazines is as yet unknown.

How widespread is its use?
Massey University conducted a National Household Survey of Legal Party Pill Use earlier this year. The study found that of the respondents surveyed, one in five people between the ages of 13 and 45 had tried party pills at least once, and around 15% of respondents had used party pills in the last 12 months.

How is BZP currently controlled?
In 2004, the Expert Advisory Committee of Drugs in its report on BZP recommended that an 'R18' age restriction be included in the legislation as a control measure to protect young people. The Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 2005 added a new part to the Misuse of Drugs legislation, and also a new schedule for Restricted Substances. BZP was placed on this schedule.

Constraints on selling and supplying restricted substances to people under 18 years were established and, to ensure that a level of control on these substances was in place, other restrictions were included in the legislation: a ban on advertising in major media, and constraints on free-of-charge distribution and rewards of restricted substances.

Where can the Government funded research into BZP and related piperazines be accessed?

- Wilkins, C. et al (2006). Legal party pill use in New Zealand: Prevalence of use, availability, health harms and 'gateway effects' of benzylpiperazine (BZP) and triflouromethylphenylpiperazine (TFMPP). Centre for Social and Health Outcomes Research and Evaluation (SHORE), Massey University.
The published report can be found at: http://www.shore.ac.nz/projects/Legal%20party%20pills%20in%20New%20Zealand%20report3.pdf

- Sheridan, J and Butler, R., (2006) Legal party pills and their use by young people. University of Auckland.

ENDS

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