World watches after New Zealand passes landmark drug bill

New Zealand officials hope a new law will help better regulate designer drugs.

The Psychoactive Substances Bill, which was passed last month, restricts the sale of drugs that don’t meet safety requirements while also prohibiting the sale of unregulated psychoactive substances until they’ve been approved. The bill also regulates advertising and point of sale. It passed 119-1.

Designer drugs, such as spice and bath salts, often mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as marijuana and ecstasy but are considered “legal highs” because makers are able to skirt drug laws. These substances often are sold as incense or plant food.

In order to be sold legally in New Zealand, those who make the drugs will have to prove that it doesn’t pose a serious health threat to users, and they would have to include proper warnings. Officials in other countries have taken an interest in New Zealand’s approach, including the United Kingdom and Australia, the Huffington Post reports.

Synthetic drugs are tough to regulate because after a substance is banned, drug makers often change the active ingredient to one not prohibited under the law. In Europe, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) found 73 synthetic drugs last year, up from only 49 the year before. In total, 84 synthetic cannabinoids are being monitored.

In recent years, these drugs have become increasingly popular among teens and young adults – in 2009, U.S. Poison Control Centers in 41 states reported only 13 calls related to spice. In 2011, it had reached 6,959 calls.

Elsewhere in the world, Uruguay is on track to be the first country in the world to legalize and regulate marijuana, and its production and sale.

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