You will have seen reports in the media recently about legal synthetic cannabis products such as ‘Kronic’ which were available in New Zealand for some time. There have been recent changes to legislation allowing temporary bans to be placed on a number of synthetic cannabinoids.
The first temporary class drug notice came into effect on 16 August 2011, banning a number of synthetic cannabinoids, including Kronic, for 12 months. The 12 month ban makes 16 synthetic cannabis-like substances the equivalent of Class C drugs. The substances will be examined by an expert committee who will advise if there should be a permanent ban or restrictions. Under the notice it will be illegal to import, export, manufacture, procure, supply and sell the substances, or any product containing them, from August 16. It will not be illegal to be in possession of amounts less than 56gms, although it will be illegal to procure (buy, obtain etc) them.
The New Zealand Police in conjunction with its education partners (see below) considered it useful to provide information to schools on how they can respond to this issue and any other 'legal highs' that may become available to school aged students. While these substances are technically 'legal' to possess in quantities less than 56gms they pose issues for schools by affecting a student’s motivation, engagement, achievement and attendance. Due to the rapidly changing nature of this issue, we will update you as new information comes to hand.
Education sector groups and the New Zealand Police have recently formed a Police-Education Partnership. The partnership currently consists of the following members:
• New Zealand Principals' Federation
• New Zealand Schools’ Trustees Association
• Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand
• The Secondary Principals' Council
• Association of Proprietors of Integrated Schools
• New Zealand Association of Intermediate and Middle Schooling
• Independent Schools of New Zealand
• New Zealand Police
• The Ministry of Education (observer)
The purpose of the Partnership is to identify issues in which we have a common interest, share information and work together toward finding solutions to those issues.
Synthetic cannabis is such an example. Issues that arise from the availability of these products were discussed at the recent inaugural partnership meeting. Police and your national education organisations want to support you in minimising the harm caused by this and any other future products which can include anxiety, disorientation, hallucinations, seizures and paranoia.
We are providing advice to school boards of trustees and separately to school principals on how schools might effectively deal with these substances within their own policy framework.
Principals should note that:
• Synthetic cannabis products have similar psychoactive properties to natural cannabis products
• While you and your staff may need to devise different processes for dealing with synthetic and naturally occurring cannabis (e.g. regarding police involvement), the issues in terms of school culture and values are the same regardless of whether the substance is grown or manufactured.
We urge you to consider, in conjunction with your board of trustees, reviewing your existing policies and practices regarding smoking, drugs and alcohol, search and confiscation and/or health and safety with a view to ensuring that they refer to cannabis products in a way that is inclusive of synthetic cannabis and other ‘legal highs’.
Points to assist you as you reflect on how you will proceed in updating your school practices on synthetic cannabis:
• An item does not have to be illegal before it can be prohibited in a school. For example, students who are 18 can still be prohibited from bringing alcohol and cigarettes to school.
• An item does not need to pose an imminent safety risk before it can be prohibited within school.
• Wording your procedural guidelines in more generic terms will make it easier to implement a consistent and adaptable regime, e.g. “possession of psychoactive substances other than prescription medicines” rather than “possession of Kronic” or other brand-names.
• The student’s right to enrol is accompanied naturally with a responsibility to abide by a school’s reasonable policies, practices and rules. Students or their caregivers do not need to ‘sign up’ to or ‘agree’ with the school’s policies, practices or rules, and they cannot legally be required to ‘sign away’ their fundamental rights (e.g. the right to reasonable privacy).
• Search guidance in relation to risk to safety is available from the Ministry’s website >>
• According to the courts, “Results must not be fixed: they must instead be fair” when considering suspensions, stand-downs, exclusions or expulsions. The consequences for a serious breach of school rules or refusal to comply with a reasonable instruction must therefore be considered in each case.
• You can contact your local ‘Smoke Free Officer’ if you are concerned that a shop is selling Kronic or other ‘legal highs’ to under 18 year olds. The contact details can be accessed here >>
• Check out the Drug Education Guidelines >>
The above guidelines outline how these programmes are supported by a whole-school approach to promoting health and wellbeing that incorporates a drug education programme along with links to wider school communities. Section 1 is primarily for school governance and strategic planning. Section 2 is primarily for classroom teachers and curriculum planners.
We hope this information will be useful to you as you face this new challenge. If you have any queries, you should initially discuss this with your education organisation.