Psychoactive Products - FAQs

Answers to commonly asked questions about psychoactive products and Council's Psychoactive Product Retail Location Policy.

Why does Council have a policy?

In 2016 The New Zealand Government started to process retail licences allowing approved psychoactive substances (legal highs) to be sold by retailers throughout New Zealand. However, there are no approved psychoactive products for them to sell yet.

A Psychoactive Products Retail Location Policy is the tool all councils have available to them regulate where in our district these sites might be located - so it was important to have policy in place before the licence processing starts. These policies can also be known as Local Approved Products Policies.

It is currently illegal to sell psychoactive products that have not been approved, and approval will only be given once the products have been deemed to have a low risk of harm. The testing process is explained below in "what is an approved product?"

What is a psychoactive substance?

Psychoactive substances are some of the ingredients used in approved products that affect the mind. You might know such products as:

  • party pills
  • herbal highs
  • legal highs
  • synthetic cannabis
  • legal recreational drugs

What is an approved product?

An approved product is something which contains a psychoactive substance (explained above) that has gone through the Ministry of Health's Licensing Authority's stringent testing process. This processes mirrors the same test used for medicines.

Only products that have passed this test may be sold.

The manufacturer of the product needs to prove to the Ministry of Health's Licensing Authority that the product has a low risk of harm - something which was not in place when products such as "Kronic" (a legal high available for sale in 2013) was for sale. 

At this stage, the Ministry of Health's Licensing Authority has not received any applications for product approval.

For more information on what the Ministry of Health does, and for an update on the approval of products, head to their website.

What is a Psychoactive Products Retail Location Policy and what can it do?

The policy is a tool that all NZ Councils can use to provide areas to the Ministry of Health's Licensing Authority where licences to sell approved psychoactive products may be issued.

In the policy, Council is able to use a combination of broad areas (ie only in the pedestrian core zone in a town centre), closeness to sensitive sites (like early childhood centres, schools, places of worship, community areas and facilities) and closeness to other similar premises which have a licence to sell psychoactive products.

Council is unable to include anything in the policy around which products are approved for sale, how the retailer will operate once the licence has been issued or through the issuing of the licences themselves. This is provided for in legislation and is a function that the New Zealand Police and the Licensing Authority will perform. You can read about Thames-Coromandel District Council's policy here.

Why does the policy use the pedestrian core zone in our larger town centres, where people walk, shop, and go about their day, as potential retail location for sale of approved psychoactive products?

These zones have a high level of pedestrian and vehicle activity, and therefore more public surveillance, as well as a stronger police presence. The pedestrian core zone is an area identified in our district plan.

Police have advised us that pedestrian surveillance is an important element of reducing crime in town-centre areas. Buffers around sensitive sites define these areas further.

There are prohibitions on what a retailer is allowed to stock on their shelves - there's a list of them in the Psychoactive Substances Act which will guide the Licensing Authority when they make their licencing decisions. For example, people can't sell approved products from:

  • Dairies or convenience stores
  • Petrol stations
  • Places that sell alcohol
  • Tents, marquees or vehicles

You can read the Act in full on the Parliamentary Counsel Office website.

The policy provides for potential retail locations in Thames, Whangamata, and Whitianga. What about smaller towns like Pauanui, Tairua or Coromandel?

These smaller townships don't have the same high frequency of pedestrian activity and aren't patrolled as regularly by police. The Psychoactive Substances Act 2013 allows us to limit broad areas of the district. Our draft policy restricts potential retail locations to places where there are high levels of pedestrian and vehicle activity, as well as a stronger police presence.

What about advertising? Can retailers advertise psychoactive substances in buffer zone areas? What about signs that can be clearly seen from buffer zone areas?

Advertising is regulated directly under the Psychoactive Substances Act and is not covered by this Policy.

The Act states that advertising can only occur inside the licensed retailer (ie at the point of sale). This advertising must not be easily visible or audible from the outside of the premises. This advertising must be limited to only:

  • the active ingredients and the quantity of these ingredients, and
  • the price of the product.

For a complete list of the rules for advertising, see section 56 of the Psychoactive Substances Act 2013.