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Treat drugs as a health issue, says justice sector review

Media Release – 12 December 2019

The recommendations in Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora – the Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group’s report Turuki! Turuki! Moving Together released today offer a concrete way forward for the Government to treat drugs as a health issue.

Amongst the recommendations in the report the Group call on the Government to strengthen regulation of alcohol, legalise and regulate personal use of cannabis, and consider that for all drugs; treating personal drug use as a health issue with more funding towards prevention, education and treatment.

“The sweeping changes recommend in Turuki! Turuki! show how we can move to a criminal justice system that gives priority to the health and wellbeing of New Zealanders,” said Ross Bell, Drug Foundation Executive Director.

“The punitive approach to drugs New Zealand has pursued for almost 50 years has created more harm than good. This new report shows us a way to begin healing from decades of harmful drug law.”

“We urge the Government to accept these recommendations. Too many New Zealanders have their lives scarred through the criminal justice system, when a health intervention was needed.

“Māori have borne the brunt of the failed criminal justice approach. This report gives us a way out.”

“The Government amended the Misuse of Drugs Act in August to strengthen Police discretion on drug possession charges. That reform now looks piecemeal in the light of this report, which recommends more fundamental change in support of treating drugs as a health issue.”

This report comes on the back of the 2018 Mental Health and Addictions Inquiry, which also recommended more substantial changes to strengthen alcohol regulation and reform drug law. At the time of that report, the government said it was still considering those recommendations. Almost a decade ago the Law Commission made similar recommendations in its review of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The report also provides an endorsement of the Government’s Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill, released last week, in its recommendation that “that personal use of cannabis should be legalised and regulated” and that “research and experience around the world shows that criminal penalties have little impact on whether people take drugs.”

“The Government has already made significant moves toward treating drugs as a health issue. Families, people working at the frontline, experts and advocates are in alignment on this topic: it is now time for the government to act on the various reviews it has commissioned.”

“We can see some steps toward this with the announcement that drug courts in Auckland in will be formalised, and new pilot drug court established in Hamilton. This is exactly the sort of action on the ground we need. We look forward to seeing other recommendations translated into action.”


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