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Synthetic cannabis taken off our streets

Synthetic cannabis seized from a Masterton property on Thursday. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER

Man and woman arrested

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Synthetic cannabis with a potential street value of about $18,000 was seized from a Masterton property on Thursday.

Police executed search warrants at two properties – one only metres away from Lakeview School – after receiving information from the community that drugs were being sold from them.

Detective Sergeant Matt Wasson said the public had been raising concerns “about the ongoing use and supply of synthetic drugs” at the Kaka St and Churchill Ave properties for some time.

“There’s a significant concern about the increase in synthetic cannabis use and the health issues that it creates.

“The substances that [manufacturers] put into the synthetic cannabis is all manner of chemicals, and users won’t know what they’re getting when they buy it.”

According to the NZ Drug Foundation, there have been at least 45 deaths attributed to synthetic cannabinoids in New Zealand since mid-2017.

Synthetic cannabis typically consists of smokable plant material with a synthetic cannabinoid applied to it. The foundation said there were hundreds of synthetic cannabinoids, all invented in the past 20 years.

“They target the cannabinoid receptors in the brain like cannabis. However, these substances are riskier than cannabis. There have been no approved synthetic cannabinoids under the Psychoactive Substances Act since 2014.”

Wasson said it caused “extreme behavioural problems” and was a contributor to mental health issues.

“It’s a cocktail of all manner of chemicals,” he said.

“And I suppose within the last year or two there has been an increase in usage.”

The drugs, weighing almost a kilo, were seized from the Kaka St property.

Two large zip lock bags were filled with the drugs, which look similar to mixed herbs, as well as dozens of prepared 1g bags, which sell for about $20 each.

So far, a man and a woman from the Churchill Ave property, where stolen items were found, have been arrested and charged.

Both addresses were linked to the illicit drug activity, which has a “direct impact on the community”.

Wasson said the fact that one of the properties was across the road from a primary school was a worry, and of even more concern, children were living at the address.

Last month, Health Minister David Clark said he wanted synthetic cannabis reclassified as a Class A drug, alongside heroin and cocaine, after the death of a Christchurch man and a high rise in hospital admissions as a result of using the drug.

The Psychoactive Substances Amendment Bill, which would increase the maximum jail time for supplying synthetic drugs from two years to eight years, passed its second reading in Parliament last month.

Wasson said he would “wholeheartedly support” this move.

He said it was great that the community had spoken up about the offending, which had led to the seizure of the drugs and arrests.

Calls were made anonymously through CrimeStoppers.

Wasson said it was likely further charges would follow.

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