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BZP bill second reading speech

BZP bill second reading speech

Madame Speaker, I move that the Misuse of Drugs (Classification of BZP) Amendment Bill now be read for a second time.

This Bill removes the legal market for what are called ‘party pills’.

I’m pleased that after looking at the Bill the Health Committee has recommended it should proceed without amendment. The Health Committee has worked hard in its consideration of this legislation and I would like to thank all members of the Committee for their valuable work.

It is helpful to go back to the origins of the Bill to explain what these amendments do.

In June 2005 this House passed a Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act that made it an offence to supply BZP to anyone under the age of 18, to give away products containing BZP and to advertise BZP.

Those controls were introduced so that there were some controls on BZP while research was carried out into the drug.

The fear was that it could be harmful and parliament took a precautionary approach while we sorted out the facts. Parliament should always make decisions on the basis of the best evidence available.

Last year, the Ministry of Health received more evidence, and it brought us to this Bill today. The Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs advised that the independent research which this government commissioned showed BZP and related substances pose a moderate risk of harm.

This is not the assessment of politicians: It is the assessment of experts on the panel we appoint to give us the benefit of their expertise. Once this House is advised that there is a risk of harm, what is it going to do with that information?

Just over a year ago, on 20 December 2006, I publicly released the committee’s advice and began a consultation process on classification. The consultation closed in March and the submissions were analysed.

The expert committee met again in May with more up to date evidence and again advised a majority view of EACD members that BZP posed a moderate risk of harm.

This Bill puts the committee’s recommendations to me into effect.

It will classify BZP and related substances as Class C1 controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

It will set a threshold for presuming possession for supply at 5 grams, or 100 tablets or pills, each containing some quantity of BZP and related substances.

It will remove BZP from Schedule 4 of the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 2005 so it can no longer be sold as a restricted substance

It also provides for an amnesty period of six months for possession and/or use of less than the presumption for supply amount of 5 grams or 100 tablets.

I want to briefly deal with some of the issues raised at the Select Committee.

Some submitters claimed that the expert committee relied on incomplete or non peer reviewed information when it made its recommendation that BZP poses a moderate risk of harm.

Their claims do not stand up to scrutiny. After the expert committee provided its advice to me the Ministry of Health arranged for key studies to be peer reviewed. These peer reviews - and researchers’ responses to these peer reviews - were considered by the EACD in May before it re-affirmed its recommendation to me to classify BZP as a class C1 drug.

I have thought carefully about other concerns, and especially the concern that a classification of BZP might lead some people to other, potentially more harmful drugs.

Those sorts of choices are always, to some extent, influenced by both personal and environmental factors.

I am convinced that a large number of people use BZP because it is legal and readily available.

There is an analogy with alcohol. Alcohol is easily New Zealand’s most damaging drug. But that is not because it is our most intrinsically harmful drug; It’s because alcohol is both legal and easily available.

If we remove the legal market for BZP-based party pills, large numbers of users will stop using the substances they are made from. These are substances that experts consider pose a moderate risk of harm.

I know this issue is a concern to the Green party. I find it extraordinary that a party that campaigns against breakfast cereal and coca-cola, wants to liberalise the availability of something experts say poses a moderate risk of harm.

When it comes to GMOs, the Greens advocate a precautionary principle. When it comes to fisheries protection, the Greens advocate a precautionary approach. When it comes to a drug - assessed by experts as harmful - suddenly the Green party appears to throw caution to the wind.

How can you be against coca cola, and in favour of party pills – even the regulated kind?

How can you be against fishing companies, chicken farmers and pig farms and in favour of psychoactive drug manufacturers and suppliers?

Where there is money to be made, unfortunately, some people will take their opportunities and party pills are no exception. The existence of party pills didn’t stop manufacturers trying to find other products to bring to market - just as apples don’t keep oranges off the market.

So the only responsible and precautionary approach is for the Ministry of Health to monitor substances and weigh up the facts as they become available.

Already the Ministry has advised that any product which contains substances it believes are controlled drug analogues are illegal.

Police have already taken action against one such product, and it has since been withdrawn from sale.

In other words, the law is working as it was meant to do.

Not only that, but the Ministry of Health is working with the Law Commission to develop a ‘reverse onus of proof’ to ensure controls around substances entering the market are tightened up. It is my view that psychoactive drugs should have to be proved safe by their manufacturers before they are put on sale – not by government agencies afterwards.

I also acknowledge concern about the potential to criminalise ‘party pill’ users. It’s to avoid punishing people unfairly that the Bill has a six month amnesty period for possession of less than 5 grams or 100 tablets. The amnesty ensures there’s enough time between this Bill taking effect and users of party pills facing prosecution.

Manufacturers and retailers of the drug will, under a Supplementary Order Paper drafted to amend the original enactment date of 18 December 2007 which was not able to be met, have 7 days after this Bill receives Royal Assent to stop making and selling BZP and related substances. As most of them anticipated this bill coming into force in December, I don’t foresee any problems.

I know the Green Party and the Maori party believe regulation of BZP is preferable to classification.

I have considered that point carefully. But the advice of the expert committee is clear - these substances are harmful enough to warrant classification.

Ignoring clear, evidence-based, expert advice is tantamount to voting for more harm to be caused to more people.

I suggest to those parties that their support for an approach which experts say will harm people is morally indefensible. When we are presented in this house with evidence, and when we can help prevent harm, that is what we should do.

Let’s be clear about the people those parties are saying they want to harm:

One in five New Zealanders aged thirteen to 45.

New Zealanders as young as thirteen - even when the drug is regulated for over-18s. As long as the drug is lawfully distributed, thirteen year olds, and fourteen year olds, and fifteen years olds are fare too easily going to get it.

They will have no trouble when their friends and brothers and sisters can go into gas stations and dairies and buy the pills, as they were doing.

When they take the drug, it has an effect on them similar to an amphetamine.

That is why experts consider it a moderate risk of harm.

I believe party pills will virtually disappear from New Zealand as a result of this classification.

New Zealand now has an extensive body of evidence on BZP and related substances. The evidence shows it will be a good thing for the drug to disappear from New Zealand.

This legislation will remove legal access to BZP and related substances.

It will allow the Police and Customs to prevent these substances being imported and marketed and therefore causing the moderate risk of harm experts have identified.

For that reason I commend this Bill to the House and support its passage through all stages.


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