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Third Reading of the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill

Hon Peter Dunne
Associate Minister of Health Thursday 4 August 2011

Speech

Address at the Third Reading of the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill

I move that the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill be now read a third time.

The third reading of this Bill gives me a great deal of pleasure.

What began as a Bill with a primary purpose to reclassify pseudoephedrine and ephedrine as Class B2 controlled drugs has become out of necessity a Bill that will also enable the Government to more easily deal with the potential harms associated with new and emerging psychoactive substances, like Kronic.

The amendment I introduced by way of SOP on Tuesday provides a mechanism to temporarily ban substances where there is reason for concern about their use.

This will be achieved by issuing Temporary Drug Class notices for these substances.

In the event that such a notice is issued for a substance or product, retailers will have seven days to remove products from their shelves and it must not be sold after that time.

The substance will then be referred to an expert committee to consider it, and to make recommendations for the appropriate ongoing level of control of that substance.

In the case of products currently causing widespread concern – that is, the synthetic cannabinoids in products like Kronic, I will be issuing a Temporary Drug Class Notice as soon as possible after this Bill receives the Royal Assent next week.

That will mean these products must be off the shelves a week later.

My advice to retailers is simple – return stock to your supplier now.

Do not wait for the Notice to be issued.

It is ultimately the distributor’s responsibility and it is they who should bear the cost, not the retailer.

I would like at this point to thank Ministry of Health Officials and the Parliamentary Counsel Office for their hard work developing the SOP.

I appreciate the effort that was put in to get the drafting right.

However, I must reiterate the point I made during the Committee of the Whole stage that the provisions introduced in my SOP are not the long term solution.

The Law Commission’s 45 recommendations in this area remain the goal as there can be no doubt of the logic that a manufacturer of such products should be required to demonstrate their safety before they enter the market.

But, these recommendations are very high level and it is important we work through the detailed policy required to implement such a regime to ensure we get the regulatory framework right.

Those who have been calling for the immediate implementation of the Law Commission’s 144 recommendations for updating the Misuse of Drugs Act have either genuinely failed to understand the complexities of the issues involved, or they have been deliberately ignorant in advocating sensationalist solutions to complex issues they did not understand.

Either way, we are past that now and the Temporary Drug Class notification process will enable us to better manage the influx of new substances than the current legislation allows.

The Government is determined to get this right, and it is not going top be rushed into superficial responses that will have to be rectified later.

Let me now discuss the major part of this Bill.

The Prime Minister released his methamphetamine action plan in October 2009 with an aim to significantly reduce the use of methamphetamine and consequently reduce the harms it causes in our communities.

Methamphetamine is the only illegal stimulant drug commonly manufactured in our country and we have high rates of use by international standards.

It increases the risk of cardiovascular problems, convulsions and mental health disturbances including paranoia and violent behaviour.

The methamphetamine action plan includes a comprehensive package of measures to control methamphetamine precursors, break drug supply chains, improve access and routes into drug treatment, improve support for the community to combat this drug and provide stronger leadership by the Government.

The harms posed by the diversion of pseudoephedrine to the manufacture of methamphetamine outweigh the need for the ongoing over-the-counter availability of preparations containing this substance.

While most pseudoephedrine and ephedrine used in the manufacture of P has been sourced internationally, reclassification as Class B2 controlled drugs is still an important part of the equation.

Police continue to find domestically sourced pseudoephedrine at clandestine methamphetamine laboratories and the Health Committee in its report noted that the methamphetamine market is worth around a billion dollars annually and that at least 10% of this is manufactured from domestic pseudoephedrine.

Therefore we cannot ignore over a hundred million dollar’s worth of the methamphetamine market – we need to complement the valuable work of the Customs Service and strengthen our response to domestic diversion.

Reclassification of these substances as Class B2 controlled drugs will also give the Police and Customs Service increased powers to control supply, such as being able to obtain a warrant to intercept communications.

As members are aware the other amendments contained within this Bill are technical in nature and are necessary to clarify, tighten or correct current provisions within the Act.

The part that generated the most attention at select committee and indeed that has met with the most opposition in the House is the part that amends the drug paraphernalia provisions to close two loopholes in the Act enabling Police and Customs to enforce the current law effectively.

I confess it strikes me as strange that there is such strong opposition from some members given that in 2003 a Notice was issued under section 22 of the Act prohibiting the import, and supply of Cannabis and Methamphetamine utensils.

All the current amendments do is enable this piece of legislation to be enforced.

The Bill will also remove thalidomide from Class A of the Misuse of Drugs Act so that it can be more appropriately controlled under the Medicines Act.

Thalidomide is not psychoactive nor is it used recreationally and its place under the Misuse of Drugs Act is an anomaly that will be rectified with this amendment.

The Bill will also correct a problematic overlap between the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 2005 and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 by removing the exclusion that a hazardous substance cannot also be a restricted substance.

I touched on this briefly on Tuesday and make the point again, we are correcting a mistake here to enable a framework in place since 2005 but unable to be used due to wording in the legislation, to actually be available as a regulating mechanism.

The restricted substances regime places robust controls around low risk psychoactive drugs, such as so called ‘party pills’ and ‘legal highs’, that would otherwise be uncontrolled.

The amendment proposed in this Bill will remove the barrier to the use of the restricted substances regime.

In addition, as introduced by SOP on Tuesday, the Bill will enable restricted substances to also be considered herbal smoking products for the purposes of the Smoke Free Environments Act.

And finally, Mr Speaker, this Bill will strengthen our legislation to make sure we are prepared for emerging designer drugs by broadening our analogue provisions.
The controlled drug analogue provisions prevent a large number of substances traded as “legal highs” in other countries, such as the substance mephedrone, from being able to be legally sold in New Zealand.

However, it is necessary that the proposed amendment to our current provisions be enacted to protect against developments in the chemistry of designer drugs.

I commend this Bill to the House.

ENDS

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