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Review Continues To Strengthen The Case For Decriminalisation

Attributed to Sarah Helm, Executive Director, NZ Drug Foundation.

“An interim review of 2019 changes to the Misuse of Drugs Act that increased police discretion shows that we haven’t got our drug laws right, and despite some modest progress, we haven’t made the shift to a health-based approach that whānau and communities need.

“The findings of the review continue to strengthen the case for decriminalisation. Despite some positive shifts, 3000 people were still convicted for low-level drug offences in 2020 and our laws still have a hugely disproportionate effect on Māori. To turn this around, we need to stop making changes around the margins and overhaul the law all together.

“I agree with Minister Little that inequities in the system are unacceptable and thank him for acknowledging the bias in the system, which sees young people and Māori being prosecuted more often for low level drug offences. Now the onus is on Parliament to fix this.

“The evidence from overseas is that you can tackle ethnic inequities through decriminalisation.

“The report also continues to show there is regional variance in how our drug laws are applied. This shouldn’t be how our laws work.

“The reality is, discretion leads to all sorts of unequal outcomes, and puts police in an unenviable position. It should be up to Parliament to set out clear laws that achieve the health-based approach New Zealand wants.

“The public understands that prosecuting people isn't the way to help them with drug issues, and in fact prevents people from seeking help, which is why we've seen strong support for decriminalisation.

“The recommendations of the review are disappointing. They recommend tinkering before another review in 2024. That won’t shift the dial and will lead to thousands more people needlessly facing harm through the justice system. We need to scrap the Misuse of Drugs Act and start again."

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