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Committee gives NZ drug law reform "green light"

Health Committee gives "green light" for NZ drug law reform

Mild Green news report, Monday 17 July 2000

Sweeping change to New Zealand drug law is likely to proceed under the Misuse of Drugs Amendments Bill (No 4) - as reported with amendments from Parliament's health select committee late in June.

With scarcely a reference to marijauna, the committee's report is a nevertheless an "unmistakable green light for drug law reform", according to Christchurch Mild Greens, Kevin O'Connell and Blair Anderson.

The new legislation promotes evidence-based assessment of new and existing substances. It also mandates the balanced expertise of a statutory drugs advisory committee - to provide "stable and reliable advice on the classification of drugs". The Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs (EACD) "should have a role in increasing public awareness of its work", and would work directly with the Minister and the health select committee itself.

The select committee's 9 page commentary acknowledges that application of present laws is occuring with "neither sufficient rigor, nor technical input", and that there is a need for expeditious modification of procedure and policy.

Christchurch Central MP Tim Barnett's revealed that the Health Committee had adopted the reform position on cannabis "in line with democratic process", at the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party's national conference last weekend. According to the Mild Greens, NZ's National Drug Policy now is set to become legally empowered for the first time in 25 years with the will to do good".

Committee commentary goes so far as to acknowledge the New Zealand Bill of Rights, and considers the reversal of "onus of proof" in cases of possession for supply. The health committee has recommended that when established, the expert advisory committee "review current assumptions from a technical perspective and advise the Minister of a consistent, reasonable and fair approach for all classified substances".

The select committee, chaired by Labour's Otaki M.P. Judy Keall, also unanimously supports submitters' recommendations regarding a consumer representative on the drugs advisory committee to assist in an ongoing process of fine tuning legislation.

Mr O'Connell said he commended the Health Committee for some strong analysis, but questioned the exclusion of equitable positions for cannabis, alcohol and tobacco from direct discussion, given that there were double standards in their existing status highlighted by the 1998 health select committee inquiry into cannabis, and public submissions on the bill.

Blair Anderson who is in Wellington negotiating with the anti-reform education accord, says Government has an obligation to acknowledge in law that certain illegal drugs could be shown to be on balance, to be clinically no worse than the notoriously problematic legal drugs. The Mild Greens said that although the bill represented another nail in the coffin of cannabis prohibition, the public needed to consider the apparent ringfencing of alcohol and tobacco given that these drugs appeared to deserve class A classification on the basis of their potential for harm.

Either way the scene could be set for a lively debate in the house on the Bill. The Mild Greens challenge Government, in the spirit of the legislation, to resolving the simmering marijuana debate with an additional clause: - this would amend the principle Act so that personal cannabis cultivation and possession by adults is no longer an offence- as recommended by all Green Parties of Aotearoa.

The sooner MDA#4 hits the House for debate, the better say the Mild Greens. It's time Parliament took a moderate approach to New Zealand's popular "psychotropic" herb - and cracked down instead on the spread of prohibition-related harm.

Kevin O'Connell, c/- 389-4065

Blair Anderson, blair@technologist.com

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