The New Zealand Drug Foundation today made its submission to the Health Select Committee on the Psychoactive Substances Bill saying it was a good bill but there are improvements to be made.
The bill, which clarifies the law around substances like synthetic cannabis and party pills, is a world first attempt to regulate the market around legal highs, Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell said.
"Given concern around the harm these substances are causing in our communities, the bill needs to explicitly state the legislation is about harm-reduction and health," Mr Bell said.
"Harm reduction and health need to be at the forefront of policymakers’ and politicians’ minds when making decisions about the design and delivery of this bill.
"Enshrining this purpose in the primary legislation future proofs the bill and ensures this overarching goal is given precedence over competing priorities."
Mr Bell said expanding the collection of health information about these substances and making that available to the public was also essential.
"New Zealand has been notoriously slack in collecting and sharing good data on the effects these substances are having and we need to become much more proactive in that respect.
"As well as maintaining a register of approved products, data on the health and social impacts of all approved and unapproved products should be kept and made available so the public can make informed decisions."
The Drug Foundation also recommended that all penalties related to the possession of substances be removed. This includes carrying a product or suspicion of carrying a product.
"Penalties serve no useful purpose in the bill and risk expanding criminal sanctions against young people in particular."
Mr Bell said that despite this, New Zealand Drug Foundation strongly supports this bill.
"While other countries are still blindly banning drug after drug, the Psychoactive Substances Bill puts New Zealand ahead of the industry’s game. It is a pragmatic and innovative attempt to address a complex problem.
"We hope the committee act on our recommendations and those of other community groups to strengthen the bill and increase its ability to promote health and reduce harm."
Survey participants also reported that barriers to accessing services, resources and information were high.
A group of powerful synthetic opioids that were first detected in the country just a year ago may have already been linked to several deaths.
95% of respondents reported positive effects, in a study that looked at both prescription and black market cannabis use.