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Drug-Science Committee Nominations Closing Friday

16 January 2001

Crucial Drug-Science Committee Nominations Closing On Friday

Cannabis law reformers are drawing attention to official advisory positions becoming available under recent amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Act. The new drugs advisory committee has the potential to progress NZ. beyond the insanity of blanket illicit-drug prohibitions - particularly the ill-justified ban on cannabis.

Mild Greens, Blair Anderson and Kevin O’Connell, believe a statutory analysis of “whether and how cannabis should be classified” will be at the cutting edge of the committee’s work in conjunction with the Health Minister, Health Select Committee and the general public.

The reform advocates believe that with cannabis law finally under evidence-based review (submissions to the Health Select Committee close on 7 February), “the issue must be tackled fair and square, by the law.”

“It is therefore critical that Minister of Health Annette King judiciously appoints people to the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs (EACD), and that the process is as open as possible.”

O’Connell and Anderson are wary that the EACD purports to be balanced and objective, yet ‘is constrained’ having only one person to directly represent the rights and interests of consumers - and from the limited domain of drug treatment perspectives.

The reformers say that although cannabis creates problems for some, the vast majority of people who consume marijuana (and other illicit drugs for that matter) do not need treatment, and do not necessarily misuse drugs and certainly don’t deserve criminal status.

“Even chronic alcoholics aren’t booted in the guts with life long criminal discrimination as this would generally be seen as counter-productive”.

O’Connell and Anderson say it is particularly insidious that the so-called prohibition of cannabis has been institutionalised under the guise of “protecting the public good”, while actually achieving no such thing. Reformers have repeatedly witnessed parliament and bureaucracy evade and avoid assessment of the impacts, costs, harms and failure of attempting to ban the herb.

The medical and “drug interventionist” slant of the new advisory committee must be balanced with social sciences by weighing up all harms and costs.

“We have never required drug intervention, and the initiation of force in preference to people’s natural right to grow this plant and make their own mature decisions”.

As advocates of genuine harm minimisation, Anderson and O’Connell believe they would make an honest and valuable contribution to the committee, but should not be excluded from representing “consumers” because they have no direct experience of drug treatment.

The Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs will comprise up to 10 people, providing advice to the Minister of Health on a variety of drug classification issues.

"It will carry out medical and scientific reviews of controlled drugs and other narcotic or psychotropic substances, as well as making recommendations to the Minister about whether, and how, such substances should be classified, and the level at which the presumption for supply should be set for any substances."

According to the Ministry of Health, the committee will include a variety of professional experts including up to five experts in pharmacology, toxicology, drug and alcohol treatment, psychology, and community medicine. A consumer representative of drug treatment services will also be appointed, along with government officials with expertise in public health, the appropriateness and safety of pharmaceuticals and their availability to the public and representatives from the New Zealand Custom Service and the Police.

Nominations close on 19 January 2000.

People interested in applying should contact the Ministry's National Drug Policy Team. They should include a 3 page curriculum vitae and a 1 page covering letter outlining why they should be appointed to the committee, disclosing potential conflicts of interest and (if any) proposals for conflict management. Current and previous government appointments and private sector board appointments held should also be disclosed.

The NZ Misuse of Drugs Act was introduced in 1975 and was originally intended to operate as the “Drugs (Prevention of Misuse) Act” - the name change occurred to be consistent with the British statute.

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