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Pike, Brigid (2014) Towards UNGASS 2016. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 48, Winter 2013, pp. 6-7.

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This column reports on policy initiatives, research and debates launched in UN member states and by civil society organisations that are relevant to the UN General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on the world drug problem, scheduled for 2016 (A/RES/67/193).1  

Psychoactive substances – New Zealand and the EU
In July 2013 New Zealand’s parliament passed by 119 to one the Psychoactive Substances Act. The Act regulates the importation, manufacture and supply of psychoactive substances, which are defined as substances, mixtures, preparations, articles or devices capable of producing a psychoactive effect in the individual who uses them. The law specifically excludes substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceuticals. The legislation establishes a Psychoactive Substances Regulatory Authority within the Ministry of Health. This Authority is responsible for ensuring products meet adequate safety requirements before they can be distributed in New Zealand. The Authority also licenses importers, researchers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. The sale and advertising of psychoactive products are strictly controlled and no-one under the age of 18 is permitted to buy or possess them. All products must be labelled with health warnings, a list of the active ingredients, contact details for the manufacturer or distributor, and the telephone number of the National Poisons Centre. The Regulatory Authority can withdraw a product from the market if adverse effects, including reports of addiction, are confirmed.
The purpose of the legislation is to ‘regulate the availability of psychoactive substances in New Zealand to protect the health of, and minimise harm to, individuals who use psychoactive substances’. Despite a call to adopt legislation similar to Ireland’s Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Act 2010, the view was taken that the so-called Irish model of banning substances had been tried in New Zealand since 2008 and had failed.
Under the New Zealand Act, risk is assessed and dealt with as follows:
·       the degree of harm posed by a product to individuals who use it is assessed by the Authority on the basis of advice from an expert advisory committee, and evidence, including the results of preclinical and clinical trials;
·       a psychoactive product that poses no more than a low risk of harm to individuals who use the product is approved;
·       a psychoactive product that poses more than a low risk of harm is prohibited;
·       on a precautionary basis, psychoactive products are prohibited until they have been approved by the Authority.
For the Act and its implementation, see www.health.govt.nz/our-work/regulation-health-and-disability-system/psychoactive-substances/  For background and policy analysis, see McCullough C, Wood J and Zorn R (2013) New Zealand’s psychoactive substances regulation. IDPC/NZDF Briefing Paper. http://idpc.net/publications?profiles=278
On 17 September 2013 the European Commission proposed to strengthen the EU’s ability to respond to ‘legal highs’. The Commission's proposal would enhance the EU’s current response in two ways:
1.     The EU would be able to act within 10 months, instead of two years as at present. In particularly serious cases, the EU would be able to withdraw a substance immediately from the market for one year. This would ensure the substance is not available to consumers until a full risk assessment has been carried out.
2.     The new system would allow for a graduated approach where substances posing a moderate risk would be subject to consumer market restrictions, substances posing a high risk to full market restrictions, and only the most harmful substances, posing severe risks to consumers' health, to criminal law provisions, as is the case for illicit drugs.
The Commission’s proposals need to be adopted by the European Parliament and by the Council of the EU in order to become law.
For more details, see European Commission press items: IP/13/837 and MEMO/13/790
Cannabis – Uruguay and Ireland
On 31 July 2013 Uruguay’s lower house of parliament, the House of Representatives,  voted by 50 to 46 to create a legal cannabis market. Key provisions include:
-    Licensed consumers will be able to grow up to six plants at home.
-    Growing clubs with a specified membership ceiling will be able to grow up to a specified maximum of cannabis plants.
-    Private companies will be able to grow cannabis but the harvest must be sold to the government, which will sell this output in licensed pharmacies.
-    Only those aged 18 or over will be permitted to access cannabis for recreational use.
-    Consumption will be restricted to 40 grams per month.
-    A confidential federal register of users, home growers and membership clubs will be maintained to ensure traceability and control of cultivation and use, including deterring ‘drug tourism’.
-    An Institute for Regulation and Control of Cannabis will be established to grant licences for all aspects of the industry.
-    Comprehensive prevention, harm reduction and treatment measures will be provided to ensure the risk of and harms associated with problematic cannabis use are tackled.
-    An independent evaluation and monitoring unit will be established to report annually on the implementation and impact of the new law.
On 10 December 2013 Uruguay’s upper house of parliament, the Senate, passed the Bill legalising and regulating the production and sale of cannabis in Uruguay. The law is due to come into force in the new year.
On 12 December 2013 the Transform Drug Policy Foundation (TDPF) published How to regulate cannabis: a practical guide. It guides policy makers through the practical challenges in developing and implementing effective systems of legal regulation. http://www.tdpf.org.uk/resources/publications/how-regulate-cannabis-practical-guide
On 5–6 November 2013 Dáil Éireann debated a private member’s motion that the government introduce legislation to regulate the cultivation, sale and possession of cannabis and cannabis products in Ireland. The motion was defeated. On 20 November Ming Flanagan, TD for Roscommon/Leitrim, who tabled the motion, introduced a private member’s bill to provide for the regulation of cannabis for medicinal and recreational use. The Cannabis Regulation Bill 2013 provides for the establishment of a Cannabis Regulation Authority, for licensing the cultivation and sale of cannabis, and for offences.  Although the Bill adopts a similar approach to the Uruguayan legislation, the regulation of the cannabis market is less restrictive. The Bill provides for a range of licences for selling cannabis including wholesale, retail store, medicinal cannabis retail, cannabis coffee shop and cannabis social club. Instead of maintaining a register of users, home growers and membership clubs as a means of preventing drug tourism, the Irish Bill simply requires those licensed to grow or sell cannabis to have been legally resident in Ireland for the two years prior to applying for their licence, and those purchasing cannabis products to be either a citizen of the EU or legally resident in Ireland. 
For the Cannabis Regulation Bill 2013 see http://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=24824&&CatID=59
(Compiled by Brigid Pike
1. While every effort has been made to describe a representative range of initiatives, from a variety jurisdictions and civil society organisations, it is not possible to provide comprehensive coverage.
Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, International, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Issue Title
Issue 48, Winter 2013
January 2014
Page Range
pp. 6-7
Health Research Board
Issue 48, Winter 2013
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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