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Legalising recreational cannabis could stem NZ’s epidemic of ‘zombie drug’ deaths, Peter Dunne says

Synthetic cannabis has killed more than 40 people in New Zealand since June last year, a massive jump from the previous five years, the coroner recently reported.

One way to serve a blow to the market for the so called zombie-drug in New Zealand would be to legalise recreational cannabis, former MP and Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said today on TVNZ1's Breakfast.

But the suggestion came with a caveat.

"It would certainly remove some of the incentive for people to try some of these substances," he said. "But...some of these (synthetic drugs) are so potent and so powerful that people may well feel they'll get a better high from these rather than the real product.

"While on the face of it the answer would be yes (to marijuana legalisation), I don't think it's necessarily that simple."

Cannabis and synthetic cannabis are alike in name only. The synthetic variety, often consisting of dried herbs sprayed with chemical compounds derived from old medical studies, encompasses hundreds of different strains, Mr Dunne pointed out.

Two of the most potent versions, described as up to 10 times stronger that the ones that caused a "zombie" outbreak in the US due to the way users reacted to them, have been targeted by the Government for reclassification as Class A drugs.

That would mean penalties for dealing the drugs would increase substantially, from a couple years in prison to up to 14 years.

"I don't think we ever anticipated we'd get new synthetic drugs that would lead to so much harm," NZ Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell told 1 NEWS yesterday.

They're calling for the drug to be classified as Class A – the most harmful and dangerous. Source: 1 NEWS

Mr Dunne agreed that the classification for those two strains should change, but he was sceptical that it would do anything to stem the overdose epidemic.

"They're already illegal, so this doesn't make them any more illegal," he said. "We shouldn't get carried away and assume that's going to resolve the problem...We need at the same time to be beefing up our treatment facilities to deal with the people who are suffering adverse consequences because they will continue to do so."

He also suggested putting in place "a coherent international warning system" and regulating the market for the less potent strains of synthetic cannabis - rather than continuing to outlaw all of them, pushing the market underground.

But even with those solutions, eradicating the drug altogether would be difficult because it's so easy to smuggle, he said.

Police are still trying to identify the men as they want to check on their welfare. Source: 1 NEWS

"The problem is there are hundreds of these, and there are rumours of several hundred more yet to hit the market, so this problem's not going to go away anytime soon," he said.

"If you're seeking to bring this stuff into the country, you bring it all in different bits and bobs so it doesn't look like a finished product. Who knows what's put together to give it its added bite."

But there’s a caveat to the idea, the former MP and associate health minister told Breakfast. Source: Breakfast