Legal Highs, Synthetic Outrage


Protesters gather outside puff stores! Community wants legal highs out! Enraged residents voice displeasure!

You’ve seen the headlines right? All these thousands of people marching and picketing shops? Or was it 100 people, or was it 50? No not quite, around half that, still, it’s not the size of the protest that matters it’s the message.

So the message is that people, around 20 of them, want legal highs completely removed from Hamilton. Which is interesting as the campaign that this sprung from originated with a protest march against testing social tonics against animals, something which everyone can get behind right? Which is why thousands of people marched and people around NZ were outraged, and fair enough, there’s no reason these should be tested on animals, the manufacturers and retailers and consumers all agree with this too, it’s just the Government that made that call.

Moving on from the well attended and well received march and protests that everyone got behind, with very little organisation and just the force of will of a mobilized populace, a few people (1) started another group campaigning against legal highs in general. I’m fairly knowledgeable about every step in this campaign as I’ve been added to multiple Facebook groups, invited to multiple protests and seen the conversations happening around organisation etc. 

To add even more background to my understanding, I was working at a local newspaper where the reporter made it her personal mission to spend most days working of this story and putting it on the front page week after week. Never mind that there was no story, when there wasn’t a story she would give beer to young men to go and get them to engage in sting operations attempting to buy synthetic cannabis from dairies. When that failed she reported it anyway and instead of facts used a whole bunch of dark adjectives to describe the ‘feeling’ of the place that sold these evil things and classic tabloid reporting lines like ‘the owner Mr Patel, wearing a heavy coat, was observed leaving the cold grey store and scurrying to his car’

Yes. That is what it came to. Sting operations to catch a shop owner… wait for it… leaving their shop! How dare he! So anyway, all this faux outrage from a reporter wanting to write serious hard news to lift the tone of the paper just ended up a complete farce. Unfortunately 3 people were stirred enough to turn up to the protests along with a handful of others, press ganged into turning up by constant barraging Facebook messages, groups and events. Unfortunately hardly anyone ever turns up, unlike the hundreds of people who purchase these legal products everyday from the shops being picketed.

But the heart of this isn’t the amount of people turning up at protests, I’ve been to a fair share of protests with 20 people at them, I’ve organised a few myself. The most annoying thing is the hypocrisy of it all. From the reporter who finishes up her front page scare piece on the dirty evils of legal highs and the damage it does to society, who then goes home and has a bottle of wine every night, consuming a drug that kills hundreds of people every year in NZ and causes millions of dollars of harm to our society every year. To the Waikato Regional Councillor, who, when questioned about whether she would also be picketing outside supermarkets selling cigarettes and alcohol, known killers and providing a well known and measured harm to our society replied ‘Don’t be ridiculous, of course not, what sort of question is that!’ 

What sort of question indeed? The question is how many people has synthetic cannabis killed ever? Zero. How many people have died from these legal highs? Zero. How much faux outrage and poorly attended protests has there been? Way too much. s I said to the Hamilton organiser when he last asked me to come along, ‘get a grip’. Focus on the real harms to our society. The regulation, testing and sale of recreational drugs that we now currently have a framework for in this country is a good step forward from the archaic confines of prohibitionist era America. We don’t need another Christian Woman’s Temperance Union movement of people with too much time on their hands stirring up a frenzy of bored media and politicians looking for an issue.

Go home and have a wine.


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