Drug policy proposals

Drug policy proposals that the NZ Drug Foundation responded to with “This aligns with our thinking (which we are going to canvass at the symposium).


The 2015 National Drug Policy introduced a number of specific actions to reinforce the central message that drug issues are primarily health, not legal, issues, and foreshadowed a major rewrite of our creaking 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act during the next term of Parliament, once these actions have been completed.

…now is the time to be looking at what that next set of steps might be. I envisage a two-stage process.

First, we should move to an overall approach similar to the full Portuguese model, where the cultivation and possession of all drugs remains illegal, and all drug users are referred for assessment and treatment, but where there is a tolerance exercised for the possession of what are essentially Class C drugs under the current Misuse of Drugs Act. In that event, persons caught with – say – no more than the equivalent of one week’s personal supply would be referred directly to treatment rather the Courts, in an extension of our current diversion scheme.

This would require significant additional investment in the provision of assessment and treatment services, but that makes far more sense than investing similar amounts more in the Courts and prison services for the same purpose. At the same time, it would free up more Police resources to concentrate on catching the criminals behind the New Zealand drugs scene.

The second stage of the process, when the Misuse of Drugs Act is rewritten, would be to transfer the current Schedule of Class C Drugs from that Act to the Psychoactive Substances Act.

This would mean that they would be regulated the same way as synthetic substances, where the test is evidence based around the risk posed to the user, and where there are clear controls on the manufacture, sale and distribution of any such products that might be approved.

For its part, the Psychoactive Substances Authority would be required to determine an alternative to animal testing – the prohibition of which is what currently prevents that Act from working fully.

One issue that is often properly raised in the context of drug law reform is the role of the gangs as producers and distributors of drugs like cannabis. It is argued with some validity that legalising cannabis would legalise the criminal activities of the gangs and deliver them total control, something none of us are in favour of.

But, the Psychoactive Substances Act provides a way of resolving this issue. Under the Act, before a product can be submitted for testing, the producer first has to have been granted a “fit and proper person” licence.

No criminal organisation will be ever meet that standard or be granted such a licence, which would completely exclude the gangs. Instead, we would have a regulated market for all drugs, synthetic or otherwise, that the Psychoactive Substances Authority considers pose a low risk to users. The possession and supply of all other drugs would remain illegal, and the law would take its course.

The approach UnitedFuture proposes therefore has three key components:

  • mandatory and comprehensive treatment for everyone caught with drugs;
  • a pragmatic approach to anyone caught with minor amounts of low level drugs;
  • shutting the criminals out of the cannabis industry.

As such, it fits four square with the compassionate, innovative and proportionate approach drug policy I have long advocated.


It should be obvious now that this proposal is from Peter Dunne – I left his name out of it in the introduction to try to get people to read this with an open mind.

All options and opinions should be on the table when it comes to reviewing our drug laws, and while Dunne cops a lot of flak from those who want drug laws liberfalised and modernised he has more knowledge and expertise than most on what doesn’t work, what might work and what is possible politically in New Zealand.

13 Comments

  1. NOEL

     /  May 19, 2017

    There you go Zeed free referral and assessment.

  2. Griff

     /  May 19, 2017

    mandatory and comprehensive treatment for everyone caught with drugs;

    Why the hell should a drug user have to do mandatory and comprehensive treatment when the drug they use is less addictive and less harmful than a common legal recreational drug?
    lets have a drug policy that recognizes that human seek the novelty of drug use and in the vast majority of cases will have no adverse effects from this drug use
    Alcohol should be the bench mark .
    If any drug is less harmful than the legal alternative alcohol it should be legal and regulated or alcohol use should be made illegal.
    Lets use actual science to inform our drug policy.

    • It is illogical to translate UK based Figures to the New Zealand situation. Two examples beer consumption in NZ is 32nd on global consumption and the UK is 28. The use of meth in 16 to 64 year olds in UK is 1.1% and NZ 2.1. NZ Cannabis consumption is 14.6% and UK is 6.8% if you check with Google.

      • Griff

         /  May 19, 2017

        The lancet paper the above graph comes from are not consumption rates but an attempt at quantifying the harm drugs do.
        http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(10)61462-6/fulltext?cc=y=

        Our health service has a drug harm index.
        http://www.health.govt.nz/publication/research-report-new-zealand-drug-harm-index-2016
        It includes the costs and harm caused by prohibition as a drug harm not the harm of the stupid drug laws .
        According to the numbers in new-zealand-drug-harm-index we could be better off to the tune of $500,000,000 a year if we legalized cannabis and other less harmful drugs.

        If we had a rational recreational drug policy we would get to tax the profits of the drug industry as well as have a chance to regulate the market to make it harder for drugs to be abused by youth .

        This is without taking into account the reduction in harm if some change from the use of alcohol to safer alternatives.

        I don’t think we should make alcohol illegal.

        I occasionally drink but much prefer to smoke a little pot .

        A rational approach to drug use would save us both money and reduce social costs .

        Instead we have a government that bestows knighthoods on the sellers of one of the most destructive drugs and locks up those who sell or use less harmful alternatives.

        • On the button Griff …

          The flow-on affects for individuals and communities released from the tyranny of unjust laws probably can’t even be adequately measured … Tangential things like people communicating without paranoia and an easing of the nation’s psyche …

      • Kevin

         /  May 20, 2017

        “Harm to others” is dependent on popularity so this figure will be different for different countries. However “Harm to users” never changes. So according to the graph Tobacco is more harmful to users than Cannabis, and Cannabis is more harmful to users than Ecstasy, which is more harmful to users than LSD and mushrooms. And as legalisation does increase usage legalisation illicit drugs would increase the “Harm to others” figures.

        One problem I have with the chart is that it doesn’t take into account how dangerous under present conditions (read prohibition) a drug is. For example most Ecstasy pills contain little or no MDMA and with those that do you never know how much MDMA a pill contains.With MDMA a minuscule difference in amount can mean the difference between a pleasant experience and a trip into hell. In Holland they even issue warnings to users if a Ecstasy pill hits the blackmarket with a high level of MDMA. Of course all this wouldn’t be a problem if Ecstasy was just legalised and regulated under something like an actual working version of the Psychoactive Substances Act (i.e. allow animal testing), but I’m digressing here.

  3. Meantime, at least one political party lives, breathes and ‘does the required work’ in the real, contemporary world. I wonder if the NZ Drug Foundation will comment?

    http://www.top.org.nz/top8

    A realistic policy based on a comprehensive, if not ‘scholarly’ assessment of the situation, especially regarding the toughest component of the issue, which is clearly [so-called] recreational use …

    Sometimes language categorisations are decidedly mixed blessings. Where does ‘medicinal’ end and ‘recreational’ begin? If a person is really unhappy and gets relief from their psychological & emotional pain from cannabis, is that medicinal or recreational use?

    The litmus test will be police powers to enter, search and confiscate without a warrant. If the situation remains the same as it is now concerning cannabis, it will have failed … Simple as …

    If cannabis remains illegal but with “tolerance for small amounts” the situation will effectively be unchanged … It will still cost just as much to futilely attempt to “remove the criminal element” … Prosecution will be at the arbitrary discretion of the police …

    In the case of cannabis, it is not misuse of drugs that must go … since cannabis is no more a drug than tobacco or alcohol … It is unjust law and its misguided or misused enforcement and prosecution …

  4. tick Portugese model

    • Kevin

       /  May 19, 2017

      Except Dunne doesn’t believe in decriminalisation as evidenced by his flippant dismissal at the UN(?) of those who argue in favour of the Portugese model.

      By the way plenty of other countries have taken the decriminalisation path and in none of those countries have there been any significant increase in drug use.

  5. Kevin

     /  May 20, 2017

    “First, we should move to an overall approach similar to the full Portuguese model, where the cultivation and possession of all drugs remains illegal, and all drug users are referred for assessment and treatment, but where there is a tolerance exercised for the possession of what are essentially Class C drugs under the current Misuse of Drugs Act. In that event, persons caught with – say – no more than the equivalent of one week’s personal supply would be referred directly to treatment rather the Courts, in an extension of our current diversion scheme.”

    Ok, so great. Let’s say I have a smoke of cannabis no more than once every few months and happen to get caught with a joint. Under Dunne’s proposal I’d be dragged into treatment even though it’s obvious I don’t have a problem. What about just an on-the-spot fine and my details entered into a database so that if I caught too many times then I get dragged into treatment?

    By the way under the Portugese model users are first assessed to see if they have a problem and if they don’t have a problem then proceedings are suspended.

    “The second stage of the process, when the Misuse of Drugs Act is rewritten, would be to transfer the current Schedule of Class C Drugs from that Act to the Psychoactive Substances Act.”

    Ah yes, the Psychoactive Substances Act, Dunne’s still-born baby, still-born as a result of it not allowing animal testing.

    And what about Class B and Class A drugs? Surely allowing methamphetamine to be sold in the form of a hypothetical product called “Go Pills” where the amount of methamphetamine contained and who to and where the product can be sold is strictly regulated is a hell of a lot less dangerous than the home made street stuff, right? And I’ve already talked about MDMA (Class B) as another example (one weakness with decriminalisation is that it doesn’t make the drug any safer).

    “For its part, the Psychoactive Substances Authority would be required to determine an alternative to animal testing – the prohibition of which is what currently prevents that Act from working fully.”

    Understatement of the century. Look, I get that people don’t like the idea of animal testing but to determine if a psychoactive substance is relatively safe for humans then you have to animal test – even if it’s on just rats or mice. Or at least allow testing on university students. Actually allowing testing on university students would be the much better option.

    But to be fair to Dunne I do agree with the direction he’s going. But I think we should just repeal the Misuse of Drugs Act, and have the Psychoactive Substances Act control regulation with animal testing allowed.

    See PG, I do have an open mind when it comes to Peter Dunne. 🙂

  6. Kevin

     /  May 20, 2017

    http://www.tdpf.org.uk/blog/manifesto-drug-policy-reform-protecting-families-reducing-crime

    Quote:

    A Manifesto for Drug Policy Reform
    Protecting Families, Reducing Crime

    Globally, drug policy reform is happening. More and more countries have stopped criminalising people who use drugs, and are looking to bring drug production and supply under legal government control. From Portugal decriminalising drug possession in 2001, to Canada aiming to become the first G7 country to legalise and regulate the production and supply of cannabis in 2018.

    Reform is an inevitable response to the failings of the punitive prohibitionist model of drug control which empowers organised crime, fuels disease, death and violence, endangers young people and families, and shatters communities. In the UK this is most graphically demonstrated by record levels of drug-related deaths three years in a row – now leaving around fifty families bereaved each week.

    It is time to re-prioritise health and care over prisons and punishment, to reduce crime and protect the young and vulnerable. We are calling on the next government to:

    1 End the criminalisation of people who use drugs
    In the UK criminalisation prioritises punishment over health, yet thirty countries have decriminalised possession and use of either cannabis or all drugs. Evidence from these initiatives overwhelmingly shows positive outcomes – not increased use.

    2 Fully fund proven, cost-effective prevention, treatment and harm reduction – including drug consumption rooms and heroin assisted treatment
    Short term cuts to drug service budgets are a false economy, creating long term cost burdens across the health, social care and criminal justice systems. Beyond existing measures like methadone prescribing, and needle and syringe programmes, supervised drug consumption facilities, and heroin assisted therapy should also be funded as necessary.

    3 Legalise and strictly regulate cannabis for over 18s
    Regulation puts the government in control of production, supply and availability – meaning organised criminals and unregulated dealers can be pushed out of the market, to help protect young people, our health and our communities.

    4 Review the impacts of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 (MDA) and UK drug policy
    Despite the overwhelming evidence of failure the MDA has never been formally evaluated against health, criminal justice, human rights, security & development, or cost effectiveness indicators. In other countries, where evidence has been brought to bear it has led to effective reform.

    5 Reformulate UK drug laws to allow the incremental legal regulation of drugs
    Cannabis regulation will be a positive and important first step, but we need to go further and put governments in charge of the production and supply of other drugs that have high levels of demand, to prioritise health and community safety.

    End Quote