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Anderton address on Misuse of Drugs SOP

Anderton address on Misuse of Drugs SOP

Associate Health Minister & Progressive leader, Jim Anderton

I move, that in its consideration of the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill (No 3), the Health Select Committee be given the power to consider and, if it thinks fit, adopt amendments set out on Supplementary Order Paper No 298.

This Supplementary Order Paper provides for a new schedule to the Misuse of Drugs Act as recommended by the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs.

The purpose of the new schedule is to provide for the possibility of some regulation for legal substances which are subject to abuse but do not warrant, on available evidence, regulation under the current risk Classes A, B or C drug classifications. An example of such a substance is the "legal high” benzylpiperazine or (BZP).

The regulation proposed will allow for the possibility of restrictions to be placed on such matters as legal age of purchase, retail outlets, supply, marketing, and labelling in relation to substances in the new schedule.

Such a schedule would not be confined to substances like BZP but would also provide another strategy in the spectrum of measures to reduce the harm associated with volatile substance abuse (VSA), which includes solvent abuse.

Parliamentary colleagues will be aware of the ongoing inquest in Wellington relating to the deaths of six people in the Wellington region due to inhalations of volatile substances.

The Coroner has called for information on strategies and programmes that deal with this serious problem. The proposal in this SOP is one of the strategies this government is pursuing. With the Misuse of Drugs Amendment bill (No 3) before the House we have the opportunity to ensure it is in place sooner rather than later.

Now I’m sure there will be some temptation to joke about hair spray and nail polish and how ridiculous it is to try and regulate such substances.

It is true there is a huge variety of substances available that can be abused and most have legitimate uses.

This makes regulation to combat abuse a difficult task (which is probably why no previous government has attempted it).

However, this Labour Progressive government has decided to at least try and the proposed new schedule allows the “possibility” of some regulation protective of some of our most vulnerable young citizens where, at the moment, none exists.

That possibility should not be trivialized – anyone who has watched with a sense of helplessness as young New Zealanders blow their brains away sniffing solvents knows how serious this issue is.

Not all substances which can potentially be abused would automatically fall into the new schedule. Substances will be assessed by the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs (EACD), which makes recommendations to me as Associate Minister of Health whether and where the substance should be placed in terms of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

The SOP introduces an empty schedule for restricted substances in the first instance, and sets out, in broad terms, the controls that may be applied to substances that are to be scheduled in the future (i.e. age restrictions, labelling requirements and restrictions, and advertising requirements and restrictions).

Once passed, regulations would then need to be developed to set out the details of the suite of available controls (in each of the regulatory areas) that are available to be applied to individual restricted substances.

The new schedule in the Act would remain empty until substances were subsequently assessed by the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs based on criteria set out in the SOP, recommended for inclusion in the schedule, and then scheduled by an Order in Council which would also identify which of the suite of regulatory controls would apply to that specific substance.

The procedure is like that set out in the principal Act for classifying controlled dugs. The Minister will consider specified matters in relation to the proposed restricted substance, relying on the advice of the Expert Advisory Committee of Drugs on those matters.

If the Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs considers that a substance should be restricted it must also give advice to the Minister on the appropriate restrictions and requirements to apply to the substance. The range of restrictions and requirements available is prescribed in regulations made by Order in Council.

The “affirmative resolution” process of order in Council applying to the classification and reclassification of controlled drugs will also apply to the scheduling of restricted substances.

This means the Health select committee will get to scrutinize each Order in Council and the House will be able to debate them.

Should the House agree to this motion I intend to draw two matters to the special attention of the committee. The first is in relation to the provisions that relate to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.

As drafted, the SOP provides for targeted overriding of the rights of freedom of expression (i.e. advertising and labelling restrictions) and the right to be free from discrimination (i.e. age restrictions).

I am inviting the Select Committee and the public to engage in a discussion on the potential conflicts which this kind of attempt to protect the vulnerable always confronts us with –a clash of rights which we, as legislators have to resolve in the best and most common-sense way we can.

The other matter for special consideration relates to the fact that persons convicted of an offence under the provisions introduced by the SOP would have a criminal record for a “Misuse of Drugs Act offence.”

It is acknowledged that drug offences are viewed by countries such as the United States as sufficiently serious to inhibit those offenders access to the country.

Concern has been raised that this may be a disproportionate penalty for the types of offences anticipated by the SOP and I believe the select committee will after hearing submissions and advice, be in the best position to make a recommendation to the House on this matter.

The Minister of Justice and I have agreed that both Health and Justice officials will be made available to the committee to advise on these issues.

Just as all parliamentary parties supported the Misuse of Drugs Amendment bill (No 3) going to select committee I am hopeful that there will be cross-party support for this proposal as well, which we are, in effect, asking the Health Select committee to genuinely advise and inform the House.

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