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    Psychonauts Rejoice: New Zealand Proposes New Laws To Legalize Synthetic and Designer Drugs

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    Zach Sokol

    Psychonauts rejoice. A parliamentary committee in New Zealand published a whopping 107 page appeal this week for the country to adopt new laws that would permit manufacturers to legally sell any psychoactive substance (including synthetic and designer drugs that are yet to be developed) if they can prove that it has a "low risk of harm." The new laws are expected to come into effect in August when a temporary drug law that banned unsafe products expires.

    The legislation states that "the primary purpose of this bill is to regulate the availability of psychoactive substances in New Zealand and protect the health and minimize the harm to individuals who use psychoactive substances." These laws could be game-changing in both the synthetic drug community, as well as international substance regulation. Maybe it's time to make a trip down to New Zealand and get a chance to see some hobbits with a little help from products sold at the local bodega. 

    New Zealand is not being glib about this legislation, though. The bill, titled Psychoactive Substances Bill, includes 91 clauses that detail everything from a proposal to establish a regulatory authority within the Ministry of Health and an independent Expert Technical Committee, as well as amendments regarding human and animal subject testing and the control of advertising and sponsorship.

    Though thorough, the bill is intentionally broad, with the committee noting that "we think that the definition [of psychoactives] should remain broad to avoid leaving loopholes," yet garden plants and low-risk herbal products are excluded from the drug category. Synthetic and designer drugs are defined, but not specified, with the commitee describing them as a "substance, mixture, preparation, article, device, or thing that is capable of inducing a psychoactive effect (by any means) in an individual who uses the psychoactive substance." "Psychoactive effect," however, is left vague. 

    New Scientist published an article on the bill and spoke with Ross Bell from the New Zealand Drug Foundation in Wellington. Bell told the publication that "the new law will put the onus on industry to demonstrate their products are low-risk, using a similar testing process to pharmaceuticals." The bill does not "prescribe any design or testing stage," but states that the term "low risk" will be determined by the Expert Technical Committee through a four process saftey testing regime, including manufacturing and controls information, preclinical toxicology studies, human clinical studies, and post-registration studies.

    In other words, the committee is noting that testing will be administered, but it will not regulate the ethics of any testing process. Additionally, no animals will be tested when determining the risk of these chemicals.

    Currently, the proposal suggests that the purchase age for such products be 18 years old because a higher age limit could suggest to youth that alochol and tobacco are safer alternatives. This would align the law with the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act 2012, meaning illegal possession would result in a similar offense to being caught with alcohol underage. In order to curb illegal use, New Zealand wants to prohibit sponsoring psychoactive substances, ommitting trademarks and restricting advertising outside retail outlets and on internet sites besides the approved products' personal websites. Retailers' name will also have restrictions. 

    New Zealand's associate minister of health, Todd McClay, told New Scientist that this country is the first to attempt to legalize designer drugs and made predictions as to why. The country's size, for example, "lends itself to being able to respond quickly and emphatically." The country has also had designer drugs longer than most other nations due to the difficulty of importanting pure ecstasy and methamphetamines. New Zealand had previously legalized a designer substance called benzylpiperazine (aka BPZ) in 2008, but has since prohibited the drug. The new bill is a much larger step for drug legalization and a great example of how evidence-based standards could become the norm in legalization procedures. 

    The United States has had various responses to synthetic drugs, at one point legalizing substances such as salvia and bath salts, then later changing legislation to restrict eager drug enthusiasts from getting a cheap high from the local bong shop. Any psychoactive substance can be sold legally in the United States unless it is listed in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. When certain chemicals get added to the list, new variations are often built by chemists to maintain legality. 

    The UK has had many issues related to the legalization of synthetic drugs. Meow Meow or Mkat, the street name for designer drug Mephedrone, was legal until 2010 when a series of deaths were linked to the substance. Though the substance was made illegal, chemists used some of its ingredients to form other legal highs. There have been many arrests related to Meow Meow, with the most famous being a £3.8 million bust that occurred a month ago. 

    Above is an image of Meow Meow, sold as 'plant food.' Image via News Cast Media.

    New York Magazine recently explored the new bubble burst of designers drugs in a cover story that explores the drug innovations of chemists like Alexander Shulgin, and the research of drug-focused writers such as VICE scribe Hamilton Morris (pictured). Hamilton was quoted in the piece, stating that "The 2010s will be to the 2060s what the 1960s are to today" with regards to drug development and research. New Zealand is only supporting his claim. 

    The New Zealand legislation submitters stated that this legal development is a chance "to enhance [New Zealand's] reputation as an innovative and ethical country." Bell says these laws could be an example for other countries to follow. Not everyone in the government agrees, though. The political party New Zealand First wants the substances banned, but has not proposed a response piece of legislation. Will one small country's drug laws echo throughout the governments and psychedelic bazaars in bigger nations? Maybe not, but it's an exciting time to be a psychoactive enthusiast. New Zealand may become the Colorado of the southern hemisphere. 

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