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Experts to debate New Zealand drug laws

Experts to debate New Zealand drug laws

New Zealand Drug Foundation

13 February 2008

Drug policy makers, health professionals and politicians meet in Wellington next week to discuss the future of New Zealand's drug laws and policies. A select group of 30 senior policy makers and six members of parliament, will attend the 2008 Parliamentary Drug Policy Roundtable on 20 February to discuss what makes good drug policy, and whether New Zealand legislation is currently 'fit for purpose.'

The Roundtable will be co-hosted by the New Zealand Drug Foundation and the Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences. A number of 'big names' in drug policy from overseas will attend, including English pharmacologist Professor David Nutt, an outspoken critic who has described the United Kingdom's drug law as ill-thought-out, arbitrary and one of the least effective pieces of legislation ever enacted.

New Zealand Drug Foundation Executive Director Ross Bell says similar criticisms could be levelled at New Zealand drug legislation.

"The Misuse of Drugs Act has become hopelessly out of date and irrelevant in the 32 years since it became law. A raft of ad hoc amendments has led to inconsistencies and confusion, and its underlying philosophy no longer reflects the harm minimisation approach of our national drug policy."

The Law Commission review, due to be completed by December this year, will seek to provide "a better, more coherent and rational framework" for drug legislation, but will exclude alcohol and tobacco.

Ross Bell says that as well as the Law Commission review, two other matters have helped focus attention on our archaic drug laws.

"The United Nations is currently reflecting on its international drug policy frameworks, which will affect New Zealand drug law, and our political parties are formulating drug policy for their election manifestos. All up, this is an important year for New Zealand drug policy, and that is reflected in the interest the Roundtable has generated."

The 2008 Parliamentary Drug Policy Roundtable will focus on providing participants with a good overview of high-level drug policy issues, such as how drugs are scheduled into classes based on their relative harm, how we measure harm, and how international drug policy frameworks affect our own laws and policies.

The agenda also provides a chance for open dialogue and debate about what good or bad drug policy might look like for New Zealand.

International participants also include Alison Ritter from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre which advise the Australian government on drug policy, Michel Perron from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Gábor Somogyi of the Beckley Foundation Drug Policy Programme in the United Kingdom.

New Zealand experts include Doug Sellman from the National Addiction Centre and drug treatment expert Tim Harding of Care NZ. The Roundtable will be opened by Hon Jim Anderton, Chair of the Ministerial Committee on Drug Policy, and MPs attending will include Metiria Turei (Greens), Chester Borrows and Simon Power (National), and Jill Pettis (Labour).

Representatives will also attend from the Law Commission, Police, Customs, the Ministries of Justice and Health, and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The Roundtable follows the Beyond 2008 Regional Consultation also to be held in Wellington (18-19 February) at which New Zealand views on drug policy and practice will be discussed to contribute to inform an Australasian report to a United Nations' review of global drug control targets set in 1998.

ENDS

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