Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has adopted a tough approach towards ‘untested substances’ found in synthetic cannabis, but a hands-off approach towards more dangerous Class B drugs found in alcohol. On October 3rd, he banned three synthetic cannabis substances and instructed health officials to investigate and test these new products.
This means 19 different substances are now banned under Temporary Class Drug Notices which became law in August – with 43 products containing these substances already removed from the market. Mr Dunne issued this staunch statement:
“If testing shows that they contain substances already banned, they will be gone. If it shows they contain new untested substances, I will put in place the necessary Temporary Class Drug Notices to deal with it. I have removed 43 products already; if I have to remove another 43, so be it.”
“If the industry thinks they can get around the law by changing a couple of ingredients, repackaging, re-branding and back to business the way they always have, then they have seriously misread the scope and potency of this law. We are not letting them make their profit by plying young New Zealanders with substances that are unproven and potentially unsafe. The game is over. It is just that it has not clicked for some of them yet”.
Wine also contains ‘untested substances’
In the same week, Professor Doug Sellman and Dr Geoffrey Robinson announced that medical research undertaken in the UK has come to light showing that alcoholic drinks made through the fermentation of white and red grapes contain small amounts of a drug known as Fantasy. Fantasy is the street name for gamma-hydroxybutric acid (GHB) and related substances. It is scheduled as a Class B prohibited drug – considered to be of high risk to public health.
“The UK finding that wine contains Fantasy raises the intriguing situation that New Zealand wines contain a prohibited Class B drug” said Dr Geoff Robinson, who is one of the authors of New Zealand research which equates the risk that alcohol poses to society as similar to the risk posed by GHB.
Prof Sellman concurs: “Given that there are no specific data on wine sold in New Zealand, it would be appropriate for the Government to sponsor such research. Little is known about the specific synergistic effect of ethanol mixed with Fantasy and at what doses the mixing of these drugs is important. The situation we are facing with the existence of two Class B drugs in wine – one legal and sold in supermarkets, the other illegal and associated with severe legal sanctions – highlights the irrational and inconsistent drug laws we have in New Zealand”.
Testing only costs $5,000
Given his staunch attitude towards the risks of ‘plying New Zealanders with substances that are unproven and potentially unsafe’, theoretically Mr Dunne has little choice but to ban wine immediately and have it tested. Of course that’s not going to happen; wine will never be banned.
But if it contains GHB and no testing is done, this makes a mockery of Mr Dunne’s tough talk. Alcohol kills over 1,000 New Zealanders a year and Mr Dunne refuses to even get it tested to see if it contains an illegal Class B drug. Meanwhile he bans these synthetic cannabis products which have yet to kill anyone.
At the very least, the testing needs to be done. It only costs $5,000 - a cost the Government is prepared to bear to test synthetic cannabis.
Suppose that wine was tested and found to contain GHB. Would Mr Dunne be true to his word and prevent wine growers from supplying ‘New Zealanders with substances that are unproven and potentially unsafe.’ Of course not. The Government doesn’t to spend $5,000 to test wine because it doesn’t want to know the answer. It would all be too embarrassing and so this research will never be Dunne.