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Review drags drug law into 21st Century

Review drags drug law into 21st Century

New Zealand Drug Foundation media release
3 May 2011

New Zealand’s 35-year-old Misuse of Drugs Act should be consigned to the rubbish heap of history and replaced with a modern, flexible, health-focussed law fit for purpose for the 21st Century, said the New Zealand Drug Foundation today.

The Drug Foundation was responding to the Law Commission’s recommendations for reforming the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, which was tabled today in Parliament. The report makes 144 recommendations for a new legislative and policy approach to reducing the country’s drug problem, and is a result of a comprehensive 2 year review of New Zealand’s obsolete drug law.

The Drug Foundation urged the Government to adopt all of the Law Commission’s recommendations.

“The Law Commission conducted the most thorough review ever done on the Misuse of Drugs Act. The final result is a well-considered and thoughtful set of recommendations which provide a clear way towards making modern drug law that works effectively to reduce drug harm. The report demands an equally considered response from the Government,” said Ross Bell, Executive Director of the Drug Foundation.

“The Government cannot shy away from this report. It is not a manifesto for the decriminalisation or legalisation of drugs, as some might suggest. Nor does it accept that the status quo should be maintained,” said Mr Bell.

Ross Bell said that the current law has not kept up with significant changes in drug trends and improved knowledge about reducing drug harm.

“We cannot afford to ignore this report and persist doing the same thing we’ve done for the last four decades and hope for a different result. Drugs have changed, drug use has changed, and we now know more about how to best reduce the problems from drugs.

“But our Misuse of Drugs Act simply hasn’t moved with the times, most often because politicians are scared of touching drug law. This report now provides the Government a clear roadmap for modernising our approach to drugs,” said Ross Bell.

The Drug Foundation said while many aspects of the review are of a technical and legal nature, the wider public should be particularly excited about 3 areas of proposed reform. Those being:

- a new approach for new so-called ‘legal highs’ currently hitting the market, where manufacturers would need to demonstrate safety of substances , and then if approved would be sold under tight regulations

- introduction of a Police cautioning scheme for low level offending, such as simple possession, combined with diversion to health information and addiction treatment services

- balancing law enforcement and health activities, requiring greater investment into harm prevention, education, and addiction treatment services.

The Drug Foundation warned the Government not to miss an important opportunity to modernise our response to New Zealand’s drug problem, and challenged media commentators and politicians to give the report due consideration.

“This report demands a more sophisticated discussion about drugs than we usually see in this country. It would be simplistic and irresponsible to characterise this as a choice between being ‘soft’ on drugs or ‘hard’ on drugs.

“Instead, the Law Commission’s report recognises that our drug problem is fundamentally a health issue which cannot be ‘cured’ by our criminal justice system. So for these reforms to be successful the Government will need to invest greater resources into drug prevention initiatives and addiction treatment services for people in need.

“Sadly, as the Law Commission report highlights, similar recommendations were made in the late 1960s, yet prevention and treatment initiatives were left out of the 1975 law. We have a lot of catching up to do,” said Mr Bell.


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