4. Peters wants urgent synthetic cannabis plan

Winston Peters has said the Government will take action on synthetic cannabis after as many as 45 deaths in the last year. Photo: Lynn Grieveson.

The Government is looking to “urgently reduce” the supply of synthetic cannabis in New Zealand following a recent spike in deaths related to use of the drug. Thomas Coughlan reports.

Provisional figures released by the Coroner last week show that between 40 and 45 deaths were linked to synthetic cannabis since June 2017. That is a massive increase from the five previous years in which just two people’s deaths were linked to synthetic cannabis use.

Peters told Monday’s post-Cabinet press conference that Cabinet had reviewed actions currently being taken by agencies and were taking advice on a response.

“The Ministers of health, justice, police and customs will now be seeking coordinated advice from their various agencies on how to best urgently reduce the supply of this drug with the aim of getting this dangerous drug out of our communities,” Peters said.

He said a response would be formulated “as soon as we possibly and credibly can”.

Health Minister David Clark has previously rejected calls for a separate inquiry into synthetic cannabis use. He told stuff.co.nz in February that the inquiry into mental health and addiction issues would be sufficient.

National MP Simeon Brown has a bill in the ballot that would increase maximum jail sentences for selling or supplying synthetic cannabis from two years to eight.

However Peters implied the spike in recent deaths would not encourage him to support the bill as advice from the police was that it would not work.

Long-term policy failure

Peters conceded that policy around synthetic cannabis had not been successful but avoided laying blame.

“There’s no use looking back and blaming anyone,” he said.

The current spike in deaths would not cause him to sway his current stance on decriminalisation of cannabis, which is to put the issue to a referendum.

“For a long period of time, I’ve campaigned personally on putting this issue to the people of this country and we’re going to have a referendum on that issue before too long,” he said.