English dumps on cannabis proposals

Last week Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne suggested that the poorly working laws on cannabis need to be changed.

Stuff: Peter Dunne says ‘Class C’ drugs like cannabis should be made legal and regulated

Our current law isn’t stopping New Zealanders from using drugs.

This year’s Global Drug Survey quizzed 3795 Kiwis about their drug habits. Of them, 70.8 per cent said they’d used illegal drugs in the past, with 42.7 per cent using them in the past 12 months, and 13.6 per cent in the last month.

For some time now, Dunne’s been talking up the merits of Portugal’s drug laws, where every drug is decriminalised – albeit with a caveat: If you’re caught with less than 10 days of any drug – cannabis, heroin, methamphetamine, or anything in between – you won’t be prosecuted. Instead, you’ll be fined or sent to treatment.

While some dump on Dunne whenever he mentions cannabis he has been doing more than any other politician in trying to fix drug laws that are clearly failing.

The main impediment has been the dominant National Party position on cannabis.

Rather than creating a free-for-all, Portugal saw its people’s drug use slump: in the 1990s, one in every 100 people in Portugal was addicted to heroin; since then, overall drug use has dropped 75 per cent.

Dunne wants to see that replicated in New Zealand.

“I think the full Portuguese solution, personally, might be the way for us to go long term. That might be where we head,” he says.

“I don’t think that’s necessarily where it ends, because you still have the problem – particularly in New Zealand – of the production and distribution being by the gangs, which is illegal, and all that sort of conflict.”

This is supported by experts.

Medical anthropologist Geoff Noller explains why Portugal’s model works: “I think it removes the sexy factor, because [drugs become] just another thing, and it allows people to be educated about it”.

“Because it’s not illegal anymore, we can actually talk about it. It’s very hard to have rational, truthful education and information about safe use [when] you can’t. If you remove it from this big shadow of evilness, then you can actually start talking about it.”

While a “complete rewrite” of the Misuse of Drugs Act is expected over the next three years, it’s not clear whether that kind of shake-up would feature – although the Drug Foundation would hope so.

“The sky doesn’t fall in when you do a Portugal-style reform,” executive director Ross Bell says.

“Decriminalise all drugs, stop it from being a law enforcement issue, make it a health issue and invest in health. We should be able to do this by 2020.”

But not by all experts.

However, Otago University psychiatry lecturer Dr Giles Newton-Howes is on the fence.

He says the idea of being rehabilitative instead of punitive “makes a lot of sense”, but he’d want to see more evidence of the treatment outcomes before signing New Zealand up.

“I would be cautiously interested in seeing how that Portugal experiment evolves. I wouldn’t want New Zealand to be running down that road yet, because there are lots of drugs which are really not very safe, especially for the developing brain.

“I’m not convinced that that’s a safe road for us to be going down just yet, but I do think it’s something we should be keeping a really close eye on.”

But New Zealand is lagging other countries in addressing a failing ‘war on drugs’, especially drugs causing less harm than alcohol.

Cannabis lobby group Norml welcomes the idea of putting the drug under Psychoactive Substances Act: in fact, it came up with it.

“When we were making our views known when the law was being drafted, that was always our objective, to have it so natural cannabis and other low-risk drugs can go through there too,” Norml president Chris Fowlie says.

While he says “any form of law reform” would be better than the current law, Norml would prefer legalisation to decriminalisation.

Bell agrees Dunne’s plan for cannabis “has a whole lot of merit”.

“The classification of low-risk drugs like cannabis, with a real strong public health focus, I think, is an inevitability.”

Newshub: Expert backs MP’s call for rewrite of drug laws

A drug expert is urging the Government to seriously consider an MP’s case for legalising Class C drugs.

United Future Leader Peter Dunne wants drugs like cannabis to be legalised, saying this might actually help cut down the nation’s use.

“The test is evidence based around the risk posed to the user… there are clear controls on the manufacture, sale and distribution of any such products that might be approved.”

Associate Professor Chris Wilkins of Massey University says it might not be a bad idea.

“I think New Zealand needs to start having a serious discussion and develop some evidence and get some expert opinion about where we should be heading, rather than just taking a kneejerk reaction that might come out of an election or a particular politician’s approach.”

Prof Wilkins says he’s been working on a draft regulatory model that will be released in the next week.

“It’s important that some of the money from the cannabis industry gets earmarked for drug treatment, for drug prevention. The model we’ve been working on goes down that route.”

Other countries are looking at reform.

New Zealand wouldn’t need to reinvent the wheel either, with several other countries years ahead in decriminalisation.

“Eight states in the US have legalised the supply and use of cannabis. Canada will legalise use and supply this year. There are a lot of innovative approaches out there, so I think it’s something definitely we could discuss and debate.”

But, while some younger National MPs support drug law reform, the current Government under Bill English is digging it’s toes in, and keeping it’s head in the sand.

From @TheAMShowNZ

Bill English says they don’t support Peter Dunne’s idea for licensed manufacturers to test and sell class C drugs like marijuana.

“we don’t want to create more damage”

It’s hard to see how more damage can be created by the current mess of law and police practice.

So the prospects of drug law reform in New Zealand don’t look good. Even if National loose the election Labour have said “it is not a priority” meaning they don’t want to propose anything that could be controversial or contentious (that approach has failed them so far).

Unless something can be negotiated as part of a coalition arrangement.

Dunne may not be an MP after the election. If he survives his one vote is unlikely to hold much power.

ACT don’t look like having more than one voter either at this stage.

The Maori Party have said they would consider drug law changes but I doubt they would make it a part of any coalition agreement.

The Greens are possibly the only party that are likely to have enough votes and enough sway to force the issue – if they are willing to back many years of supposed support for drug law reform.

Misuse of drugs is a major factor in ‘poverty’ and imprisonment problems, things the Greens think need addressing.

That’s for sure.

Leave a comment


  1. Griff

     /  29th May 2017

    “Misuse of drugs is a major factor in ‘poverty’ and imprisonment problem”
    Actually alcohol use is the major factor in both poverty and imprisonment .
    You can also add health to problems that have alcohol as a major factor.

    Drug laws should be based on a rational quantification of the costs and harms of the usage of recreational drugs . This evaluation should also include the costs and harms of prohibition .
    In the case of cannabis a legal market palace would both save costs and minimize harm
    I don’t believe Bill will be leading National for long after the election.
    What are the stances of those who could mount a challenge for leadership of the party?
    Here is Paula Bennett’s saying meth is addictive on first use and even one hit can turn you into a drugged up nut
    Her overall position on drugs is more open to change than English’s conservative stance.

    We don’t need reefer madness style ignorance in this debate we need a rational informed approach to successfully minimize harm.

  2. Time will tell whether it fails or not – it is just one part of growing pressure to change the way we deal with drug use, and has usefully put it in the spotlight again.

    This is an issue that won’t go away, it will actually eventually force change. It’s a matter of when, not if.

  3. Reply
  4. I think that NZ Govt. continue eff. zero-tolerance/prohibition (& misinfo.) at their peril. This could become a big issue, in the run up to 23/9

    NZ is really looking like a ‘draconian police-state’ on this issue; USA, Canada, most of EU, Aust. etc. are all moving forward on this, (decrim. & regulate) but this Govt. have their As firmly on the fence.. WHY ? Surely they can see the ‘WAR on Drugs’ has failed & its time to look beyond it & stop misinforming us.

    Take it from the black-market & legally regulate it (R18).. not ‘anything goes’ as many would have us believe. No one in the reform movement wants it legalised so that youth can ‘get stoned’.. as happens in a totally unregulated black-market, where anyone with cash can buy it from gangs/dealers !

    BUT it does sounds like Dunne is just ‘politicking’ (to keep his seat ?), rather than trying to reduce harm, with genuine reforms ???

    • PDB

       /  29th May 2017

      Zedd: “This could become a big issue, in the run up to 23/9”

      No it’s not, it will be in future elections though down the track.

      They should just have a big cross-party discussion during the next term and try to find some consensus on the matter as things definitely need to change.

    • How is this likely to help Dunne’s chances in Ohariu?

      I think it’s more likely that nearing the end of his career he is trying to do something more significant than just playing a bit part in Government.

  5. NOEL

     /  29th May 2017

    GDS the selection process is heavily weighted those who would want change.
    It’s not a indication of the preferences of the majority of New Zealanders.

  6. Russell Brown: Drugs and why Dunne did it

    There should not really have been such surprise at news reports about associate Health minister Peter Dunne last week proposing the legal, regulated sale of cannabis and the Portugal-style decriminalisation of other drugs. He has been advancing essentially the same ideas for a couple of years. He announced those ideas as United Future policy the week before and at the beginning of this month he expanded on them in a speech to a police strategy conference.

    But his timing in making these relatively explicit proposals is notable. Dunne knows better than anyone that it is likely that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975 will get a comprehensive rewrite in the next Parliamentary term. He’s putting a stake in the ground.

    His proposals warrant some debate.

    Brown concludes:

    What this all adds up to, however, is that drug law reform is absolutely an issue in this election year. The next Parliamentary term represents a once-in-a-generation chance to rewrite a 42 year-old law groaning with anomalies and contradictions – and to bring that law into line with our quite enightened National Drug Policy. We haven’t done that well at all so far: the government’s dismissal of the Law Commission’s thoughtful, cautious review of the Act in 2010 was a disgrace.

    It’s also perhaps a more fruitful question to ask of those seeking election for the next term. Even the Greens have had qualms about going into an election with a law reform policy and Labour continues to bleat about it “not being a priority”. It’s not going to be in most manifestos. But asking for a commitment of good faith for when the law must be overhauled seems entirely reasonable.

    National under English’s leadership seems immovable – at the moment.

    Labour keep ducking for cover.

    The real pressure could come from Greens, and given their past claim to ownership of drug law reform should come from the Greens.

  7. Reply
  8. My question is; why is this Govt. continuing to misinform us (that prohibition is working OR the only viable option)? when its clearly untrue… just look overseas

    Its 2017 not 1975.. time to pull their heads out & face the reality: over 70% of kiwis in several polls say ‘Its time for reform.. NOW !’, not in 5-10 years, maybe…

    btw; Labour are looking at the issues, although cautiously.
    Natz still seem intent on ‘Prohibition’ at all costs. Can it be, something to do with the fact that several of their MPs are ex-cops & a ex-tobacco lobbyist ??

    • “Labour are looking at the issues”, or a number of issues, but that seems to be code for deferring making any commitment until after the election.

      • I agree Pete.. but at least they are looking at this issue, rather than just pushing continuation of the status quo.

        Natz seem to be the ONLY party with this narrow, prohibitionist view… only ?

  9. @PG

    dont get me wrong, I applaud Mr Dunne for at least talking about some level of reform.. BUT I still question his motives, after the debacle around ‘legal synthetics’ which he promoted, over the natural herb, as ‘lower risk’ ? 😦

    • I still remember the debate on the ‘psychoactive substance’ act, when Dunne & the Govt. stated, that any reforms would exclude any drugs currently illegal under MODA 75 (inc. Cannabis) which would remain so under the new laws.. it sounds like at least he is considering a 180deg. turn ?

  10. Griff

     /  29th May 2017

    An informed opinion piece.worth reading.
    Deborah Hill Cone: Peter Dunne’s right – jail doesn’t help addicts.

  11. Gareth Morgan trying to claim some credit…

    …for something Dunne has talked about for years, since before TOP existed.

  12. Reply
  13. Reply
  14. Kevin

     /  30th May 2017

    I agree with Dunne in principle but …

    I don’t believe he has the competence as evidenced by his handling of synthetic cannabis and the dead in the water Psychoactive Substances Act.

    What he’s proposing with regards to compulsory treatment will just swap one form of bureaucracy for another. What’s wrong with a fine, name in database, and if your name comes up too many times then you get treatment? Most kiwis are temperate drug users.

    And lastly it seems too much of a coincidence that he’s saying all this around election time. Though to be fair I don’t see drug law reform as being much of a vote catcher.

    • “as evidenced by his handling of synthetic cannabis and the dead in the water Psychoactive Substances Act”

      It was National that panicked after media reports and hobbled the Act.

      • Kevin

         /  30th May 2017

        For example sensationalist media reports saying that if the Act was passed they would be drug testing puppies and kittens? If so, the media has a lot to answer for.

  1. English dumps on cannabis proposals – NZ Conservative Coalition

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