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Source: New Zealand Parliament – Hansard

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National): My questions on Part 2 of this bill relate to what Government has learnt relevant to this part from the disaster that followed the Psychoactive Substances Act that was passed back in 2013, with the Hon Peter Dunne. Let’s just recite quickly what occurred there, because it has a very close parallel and is one of the reasons that National is cautious of the broader drug and substance checking proposals that we’re passing under urgency in this bill. We were persuaded, as a Parliament, unanimously at that time, that if we regulated these psychoactive substances, that would make New Zealand safer. I remember being hauled into the accident and emergency department by specialist doctors at my own hospital within a few months of us passing that law—

Dr Duncan Webb: Wrong bill.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: —and seeing the—yeah, yeah, what I’m saying is that we’re amending that psychoactive substances legislation—

Chlöe Swarbrick: Which you screwed up.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: And my question—well, well, I’d be interested—does the Green Party accept that Parliament erred in 2013? Because if we look at the number of fatalities that follow, if we—

Chlöe Swarbrick: I’ve sent you an article about how you screwed up, Nick.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Well, I’d be interested for the Green Party MP to explain, because Parliament was persuaded in 2013 that if we regulated these substances, we would make New Zealand safer than if we prohibited them. And what happened? What happened was that right through New Zealand there was a scourge of deaths, of admissions to hospitals, and Parliament unanimously repealed that law within—

Chlöe Swarbrick: No, it didn’t.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Well, actually—

Chlöe Swarbrick: The Greens abstained.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Greens abstained. Now, that’s really strong, isn’t it? So what happened was that Parliament passed the law in a hurry around psychoactive substances, it turned to custard, and Parliament then had to revisit it urgently and there wasn’t a member of this House that was not moved by the tragedies that occurred around the country.

And I’m simply asking: has this Parliament learnt? Have we actually taken on board—you’re allowed to make mistakes once, but to make mistakes twice would be extremely foolish, particularly when we’re dealing with life and death issues for our young people around drug use.

So my question for the Minister in the chair: what does he think are the learnings from the experience of 2013 when the Psychoactive Substances Act was passed? At the core of that issue was the issue of the testing regime, and where the caution was—effectively what Parliament did at that time was say if things already in the marketplace are already going to be used, then we’re going to allow them to continue to be used while we put a regulatory regime in place. What this is proposing to do is to allow for the drug and substance testing of those same psychoactive substances, and without being too crude about it, because it’s broader, but, effectively, we’re talking about synthetic cannabis – type products. Does he expect as a consequence of passing this bill that we will see a re-emergence of those synthetic cannabis – type products which caused so much harm then? And if—

Chlöe Swarbrick: They’re already out there, Nick.

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Well, I’d love the member for the Greens who’s repeatedly interjecting to actually take a call and to address the issue of what Parliament did in 2013, how we made a mistake, why Parliament repealed it, albeit I acknowledge that the Green Party decided to abstain on the repeal, and explain it, because, in my view, I do not want to see a repeat of what occurred at that time. Parliament got it wrong and needs to accept it got it wrong. So how will the provisions in this Part to provide for the testing of those synthetic cannabis – type products actually improve the safety and are we falling back down the same track we did then?