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Tanczos: Classification of BZP Bill

Misuse of Drugs (Classification of BZP) Amendment Bill - First Reading Speech. Nandor Tanczos, Green Party

This bill, as the Libertarianz have said, is about putting the P into BZP.

Because despite his intentions, that will be the legacy of Jim Anderton from his years as would-be drug Czar - the criminalising of a wide range of New Zealanders and the boosting of the illegal drug market as a result.

About 20% of New Zealanders surveyed say they have used party pills. It is estimated that BZP has been used for 7 years by 400,000 New Zealanders consuming 26 million pills over 9.5 million occasions with no deaths or lasting injuries. All available research shows that banning BZP will send many thousands of young adults to the more dangerous illegal drug market of counterfeit street ecstasy and methamphetamine (P).

People have spoken about the dangers of BZP. Interestingly, with an estimated 200 000 pills used a month, 21 patients to Emergency Departments in a year is relatively small.

But that will not be the case when prohibition is enacted under this bill. The many people who will continue to use party pills - because as this Parliament seems to find difficult to understand, people do not obey unjust or unreasonable laws - will no longer be assured about what they are actually taking. There will be no consumer protection, no consumer information, and they will be pushed into the arms of organised criminal organisations who will most certainly fill the gap.

Today the Government announced they are setting up a specialist organised crime agency - at the same time as they are essentially writing another blank cheque for organised crime with this bill.

So what is the heinous evil that the government is attending to remedy by this Bill? Well, the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs has described BZP as a moderate risk, and that there is no evidence of aggressive behaviour, sexual assault or date rape type behaviours.

* There have been no recorded deaths solely as a result of BZP use. * Should BZP be made illegal, this may discourage people who continue to use it from seeking medical attention if they experience adverse effects. * there is no guarantee that scheduling a substance as a controlled substance under the Misuse Of Drugs Act reduces the availability or potential risk of harm from a drug.

I want to emphasise that last point. The legislation that empowers the EACD does not, despite attempts by the Green Party, include as a criteria for recommending scheduling a drug whether harm, or even use, would be increased or decreased by scheduling. And that's the basic flaw of this bill.

The Drug Foundation, one of our more impartial and independent bodies with expertise in this area, has said "Clear patterns of 'adverse effects' are starting to emerge from the research: seizures; dystonia (uncontrollable twitching or repetitive movement); inability to sleep; and nausea/vomiting. Across the population-based research and the clinical trial, adverse effects appear reasonably common, but generally mild and short-lasting."

In a study of the Auckland City Hospital Emergency Department Overdose Database (2002-2004) which compared party pills with ecstasy, GHB, amphetamines, cocaine, and alcohol, by the New Zealand Medical Journal, it was found that most patients presented with "multidrug ingestions" and almost all patients were discharged home after "reassurance, IV fluids, and diazepam."

Reassurance, IV fluids, and diazepam? Oh, that's what the EACD meant by moderate harm.

Well, maybe the bill is needed to do something about the sellers? No. The Attorney General's advice is that in relation to supply the bill breaches the bill of rights. What that means is that the reverse onus provisions breach the Bill of Rights Act guarantee that a person charged with an offence should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that limitation cannot be justified in a free and democratic society.

This advice follows the Supreme Court finding in Hansen v R. The majority of the Court held that the reverse onus of proof in s.6(6) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 was not only a breach of s.25(c) but could not be justified in terms of s.5 of the Bill of Rights. Setting the level at which presumption of supply is set at 5 grams is so ridiculously low that even the AG's report says the amounts specified in the Bill are not sufficiently high that it is safe to conclude the drug is for 'supply'. Therefore it breaches the Bill of Rights.

So what should we do?

The Greens policy on these matters is about reducing harm. We believe that a drug-free lifestyle is the healthiest, and that all drug use, regardless of legal status can cause harm. But it is also a fact is that not all drug use is problematic and that many of the government policies in this area exacerbate harm rather than reduce. This Bill is a classic example.

The Greens favour strict regulation of party pills, not prohibition. Regulations such as heavily enforced age restrictions, restrictions on where outlets can be, mandatory health information, quality and quantity controls, severe restrictions on advertising and severe penalties for breaching such regulations. This approach would more effectively address the problems raised by members than criminalising users and putting control into the hands of organised crime.

The Drug Foundation noted that in the Massey study 26.7% of users under 20 had 'never' been asked for age ID when attempting to buy pills, 80.7% of those under the age of 20 had 'never' been refused when buying party pills. Most users could get pills within 20 minutes.

The 2005 Act provided for regulations on where restricted drugs (new class D, including party pills) could be sold, and the dosage, packaging and marketing of products. These regulations have not yet been passed, and to our best knowledge no enforcement officers have been appointed, so no formal monitoring or enforcement of the industry has been carried out. There is no licence or training required before selling the product, and because of this many dairies, off-licences and garages are currently selling them (an area of major concern to the public and health sector workers). Many outlets also display extensive point-of-sale advertising.

So having failed to make use of the regulatory provisions the 2005 Act provided them with the Government is now saying that the status quo isn't working and jumping to prohibition. Of course the status quo isn't working, there is still very little regulation and access is very easy. Party pills are being sold at dairies, young people aren't being asked for ID, there is little enforcement - sellers don't need to get licensed and are not trained - these drugs are far less regulated than alcohol and yet instead of upping the level of control over their sale we're jumping straight to an outright ban.

Instead of passing a sledgehammer law that will crack not just the nut but break the table as well, why wouldn't the Government put in place the regulations that the 2005 legislation provides for, and which the evidence suggests is more likely to actually reduce harm from party pills?

But this isn't about reducing harm is it? It's about another agenda. We oppose this bill.

ENDS.

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