Q+A: Helen Clark on why NZ should give up the war on drugs

On Q+A last night Helen Clark talked about why New Zealand should give up on the war on drugs.

“I support the New Zealand Drug Foundation on this, and their position is that there should be a binding referendum in 2020.”

I’d prefer to see a binding referendum before the 2020 election (and that could be done in early 2020). It is important enough to be dealt with on it’s own, without the distraction of a general election. This means having legislation written and agreed in Parliament to put to the referendum for approval or rejection before that.

The Greens have a confidence and supply agreement with Labour to have a referendum before or alongside the 2020 general election.

This isn’t new from Clark. In March 2018: War on drugs has failed – Helen Clark

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark says a bill that would quadruple the maximum prison sentence for people supplying synthetic cannabis reflects a failed war on drugs mentality.

National MP Simeon Brown’s bill would extend the maximum prison term for supplying synthetic cannabis from two years to eight.

It passed its first reading at Parliament last night – supported by National and New Zealand First MPs.

At a conference on drugs at Parliament today, Ms Clark, who is a member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, said the global war on drugs had failed, with devastating consequences for individuals.

Ms Clark said the proposed synthetic cannabis law change was more of the same.

“That is heading in the war on drugs direction which isn’t going to work – but going to a select committee to a bill is one thing, what will come out the other end.

“And I think all the people who know about drug policy, who know what’s happening around the world, need to come to the (select) committee and spell it out how it is.”

Ms Clark said it was time for New Zealand to have a fresh look at its drug policy.

“We have to look at the evidence of what works – and if we looked at Portugal or to Switzerland or any number of countries now we see more enlightened drug policies, which are bringing down the rate of death and not driving up prison populations.”

Full Q+A interview:

 

“If we look at penal policy, clearly it’s failed.”

“I’m personally totally opposed to three strikes and you’re out, I think that’s a ridiculous approach.”

On drug reform:

“That would be the gold standard, to go to the Portuguese model, which is decriminalisation surrounded by massive harm reduction measures.

“New Zealand innovated more than thirty years ago with the needle exchange scheme, and we did that because it was absolutely essential to stop the spread of HIV aids.

“But we haven’t really done much in all the years since, and if we look at what Canada is now doing, you have safe consumption spaces where people who inject drugs are able to inject in safety where their drugs are tested, and also in a number of countries much readier access to the anti-overdose drug Naxolone, which WHO says should be in the hands of anyone likely to witness an overdose.

“So I have no doubt that we could do much better, and we need to look at what’s Norway doing, what’s Canada doing, what’s Portugal doing, who’s doing things that are working.”

Corin Dann: “Again though where does leadership come in here, because this current Government has said they would look at a referendum, but then there’s no guarantee they would act on that referendum. It seems to me that once again politicians are very nervous about leading on this issue. What should they do?”

Clark:

“Well I support the New Zealand Drug Foundation on this, and their position is that there should be a binding referendum in 2020. and for it to be binding you need to prepare the legislation beforehand so people know what they are voting on and you can have an informed debate.

“In referendums the question is always the question, and it needs to be simple, but if it’s a simple yes/no around a law that’s been passed and will be activated by a ‘yes’ vote, that becomes clearer to explain.”

I hope she convinces Jacinda Ardern and Labour on this.

Passing legislation next year that is subject to a binding referendum in early 2020, months in advance of the general election is do-able and should be a no-brainer if Parliament is prepared to lead on this and address what is currently a very poor situation on drugs.

“The current policies aren’t working”.

Do you think the public feels that?

“Yes I do, but I also think what has changed is that around the world we’re seeing a lot of movement on these issues. Certainly on cannabis decriminalisation and even legalisation in US states and Canada and European jurisdictions.

And in the area of the other illicit drugs we’re also seeing a lot of innovation around harm reduction measures. So I think follow the evidence, see what’s working.

Portugal in the mid-late nineties, when it went down this road, had the highest rate of drug related deaths in all of Western Europe. Today it has the lowest, so clearly they’ve got something right.

Decriminalisation or legalisation is the approach that Portugal and others take, but they then have regulation.

Now New Zealand did try regulation of some psycho-active drugs back in 2013, then for whatever reason it got dropped like a hot cake the following year, but I think it is worth going back and looking at the principle of that with respect to that particular group of drugs.

That refers to the legislation promoted by Peter Dunne, passed by Parliament but then dumped by National when they panicked after bad media.

The global drug commission that I’m on will be bringing out a new report in September that will be talking about legalisation AND regulation, you have to have regulation, and you have to have major harm reduction measures.

If Ardern really wants to demonstrate that her Government is truly progressive then they will address drug policies that are currently failing badly.

Minister of Health David Cl;ark seems to have been given the responsibility for dealing with this, and he has seemed tol be far from progressive, he is more conservative, and doesn’t seem keen to lead on it.

 

 

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5 Comments

  1. Blazer

     /  September 3, 2018

    National would salivate over …Clarks recommendations…the Chucks of the world would be apoplectic.

    Reply
    • Griff.

       /  September 3, 2018

      I think chucky voted NZF.
      .
      Problem with a reefer rendum is the vote will be very close.
      Including a more enlightened option on the way we approach all drugs will not get support.
      If the pro war on drugs lot win it will take years to get the question of cannabis prohibition back on the table .

      Reply
  2. Zedd

     /  September 3, 2018

    Helen is almost looking attractive.. talking about cannabis reform in a positive light 🙂 😀

    Reply
    • Ray

       /  September 3, 2018

      Time to ease up on the smokes Zedd your eyesight is starting to go!
      I don’t know why the Portuguese option isn’t being pushed, it has had been 17 years since the law was changed and while the results are not quite as glowing as some would have you believe there certainly have not been a disaster.
      Overdose deaths have plummeted, the legal system has thrown off all the extra work drugs dragged in, and while numbers who use has risen slightly (possibly due to candour in reporting due to it no longer being illegal) the same has happened in similar countries that have not decriminalised.

      Reply
  1. Q+A: Helen Clark on why NZ should give up the war on drugs — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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