World-first Drug Legislation in the Pipeline
Under proposed laws, New Zealand will permit the limited sale of some designer drugs for recreational purpose; the legislation is the first in the world to regulate new recreational drugs based on scientific evidence of their risk of harm. Manufacturers will be able to sell any currently unregulated psychoactive substance if they can demonstrate it has a “low risk of harm”. But they also allow for any psychoactive substance not already regulated to be prohibited from sale until approved by a new regulator. Recreational drugs are a headache for regulators because as soon as one is banned, a new unregulated one is created. Europe saw the creation of 24 new synthetic drugs in 2009, 41 in 2010 and 73 in 2012, according to European law enforcement agency Europol. “The new law will put the onus on industry to demonstrate their products are low-risk, using a similar testing process to pharmaceuticals,” says Ross Bell from the New Zealand Drug Foundation in Wellington, an organisation that campaigns to reduce drug harms. A new regulatory authority will be established in government, alongside an independent expert technical committee that will advise the regulatory authority on products submitted for approval. “The neat thing about this is that it says to the industry, ‘we’ll let you create a market for your products, but you have to play by the rules and not do stupid things like label substances as ‘plant food’ or ‘bath salts’,” Bell says. He says that while everyone else is still trying to ban every new drug that comes along, New Zealand is the first to try to regulate them. David Nutt at Imperial College London, former chair of the UK’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, says New Zealand’s move is a good example of the start of evidence-based policy. “My hope is this will lead to a major change in the international laws,” Nutt says.