In a massive hall in West Auckland, a community stood up and said enough to synthetic cannabis. Organised by the Waitakere Community Law Service with the community, hundreds of people from all different sectors of the community met to discuss the problem and what they can do from here. Most touching was a story of a young boy from his mum, a young man who at 21 has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and is just not the same after taking up synthetic cannabis. There was barely a single dry eye in the room, and I really admire and respect her bravery in sharing her personal story.
Where I’m from, you can see lines of people queuing up on a Sunday night to get synthetic highs. You can see a once proud community of people afraid to walk the streets at night. You see young people smoking it openly on the streets, before sitting there with an expression so blank you wonder if the life will ever return to their faces. We have a van driving around selling the synthetics in similarly lower socio-economic neighbouring suburbs.
I am a local board member in West Auckland, and I feel duty bound to do whatever I can to stop this dreadful scourge that is wrecking our communities. In my view, local board work involves two general areas: work we can physically do, and community causes we can advocate for publically to the governing body and the wider populace. We need to do both.
Advocating For Our Communities
For synthetic cannabis, we have a duty I believe to be strong advocates and enablers for our community view. So much of our work involves enabling and encourage voices to come from the community, the most powerful voice of all. Our local board has been supporting others in shaping restrictions for our own area, submitting to the Ministry of Health and writing a letter to the Mayor. In this, we have suggested further harm reduction methods around health warnings, dosage and requiring applicants for licenses to complete a social impact statement, listing the harms and how the applicant plans to mitigate them.
The Direct Local Government Response
The Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 gives territorial local authorities the power to adopt a local approved products policy. In other words, local government has the power to restrict sale of synthetic cannabis in certain ways. We cannot ban it however. According to s68 of that Act, the content of a local approved products policy may include such restrictions as the location of the premises by reference to the area, the location by relation to the proximity of other premises either specifically or within a class.
As a local board, we promote a policy that works for our area but it is for the governing body to adopt. So in my opinion, a possible solution for our area is:
“That psychoactive substances cannot be sold within a 1km radius of any kindergartens, early childhood centres, schools, places of worship, or other community facilities”
I also believe that if possible we need a restriction on hours of trade, to cover those that take public transport to and from school. Banning the stores from the area is great, but it’s not quite on point. We need clear focus on the harm that is actually being caused and the sections of our city most affected. Through community consultation and just walking down Great North Rd, I challenge you to find me a synthetics user over 25 years old. As it is affecting our youth, and especially as our young people are still setting up their futures in all sorts of ways, we need to look at responses that specifically prevent harm for them first. This is why we suggest in particular to restrict sale around schools and places youth are more likely to go. If you make it abnormal and push it to the margins, it will make it inconvenient for people to take up synthetics in the first place.
Where To From Here?
If you’re concerned about this, put pressure on your local government. Community voice and community organisation is an incredibly powerful tool, make it impossible for those in government to ignore, both local and central. Personally, I would love any feedback on what we can do. Finally, join the march on Saturday happening all around the country (details for Waitakere here). I’ll be at the Waitakere march, and if you’re a westie I look forward to seeing you there.
Shane Henderson is the Deputy Chairperson of the Henderson-Massey Local Board in West Auckland. The views above are his personal opinion and do not necessarily reflect those of the Board.