New Zealand PM John Key's Ban on Animal Testing of Recreational Drugs Praised

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A participant practices rolling a joint at the Cannabis Carnivalus 4/20 event in Seattle
A participant practices rolling a joint at the Cannabis Carnivalus 4/20 event in Seattle, Washington April 20, 2014. Reuters/Jason Redmond

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has made up his mind and said synthetic drugs should not be tested animals. Mr Key declared that if legal highs or psychoactive substances cannot be tested on rats alone, animals will not be used in testing at all.

The New Zealand government is expected to scrap the 41 remaining synthetic drugs off New Zealand shelves when the bill is passed under urgency on May 7. Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has announced last week that legal highs will be banned from sale in two weeks until the substances are proven safe.

The announcement by the government may have undermined the Labour party's plan to propose its own ban on psychoactive substances in response to increasing protests from communities regarding the harmful effects of legal highs.

Mr Key said he was informed that rodent testing did not indicate the harmful effects of thalidomide, but if it was tested on rabbits, and the problems may have appeared. He said he is "uncomfortable" with the idea of rabbit testing. If that's what it takes, he said they will have to "go back to step one" and deliberate on a testing regime. Tests may take up to 18 months as authorities will have to work through them. Synthetic drug manufacturers will have to prove that legal highs pose no harmful risks. 

Mr Key explained that if animal testing is  the only way for the health department to confirm synthetic drugs pose low risks, it's better to not manufacture legal highs in New Zealand at all. He said it's a different matter if testing on animals meant developing a life-saving drug for treating cancer.

New Zealand Labour's animal welfare Trevor Mallard said the national government's turnaround over animal testing was a victory for the opposition. Mr Mallard said thousands of New Zealanders who wanted drug dealers to stop selling recreational drugs.

The Royal New Zealand SPCA has congratulated the prime minister for banning animal testing for synthetic drugs. In a report from Scoop Independent News, CEO Ric Odom of the Royal New Zealand SPCA said the organisation is "pleased" to know of Mr Key's announcement.

Mr Odom said their position has always been in favour of a ban on animal testing. However, he warned that substances imported overseas may have already been tested on animals. He recommends that the possible loophole should be blocked by future amendments to the Psychoactive Substances Act. 

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