“We desperately need sensible drug law reform.”

Chloe Swarbrick:

We saw exactly what was foretold by Green MP Kevin Hague. We have seen the proliferation of psychoactive substances and their harm increase as a result of a lack of regulation. The chemicals have got nastier and cheaper to produce and throw together.

“We are going to be seeing a significant increase in harm” , former MP warned in 2014 when Parliament revoked interim licences for Psychoactive Substances, forcing the issue underground. Sadly, Kevin was right. We desperately need sensible drug law reform.

CHLÖE SWARBRICK (Green): E Te Māngai, tēnā koe. Tēnā koutou e Te Whare. I rise tonight to speak to the Psychoactive Substances (Increasing Penalty for Supply and Distribution) Amendment Bill. To begin with, I would like to acknowledge the sponsor of this bill, Simeon Brown, who I’ve met with about the contents of this bill to discuss my concerns. My concerns are perhaps best summarised, in a nutshell, in reference to the point made by the Hon Nick Smith about how this bill represents a practical measure to combat drug use and drug abuse, addiction, and harms. To that point, I would say that practical measures work. This bill will not work. This piece of legislation is contrary to all of the evidence, to every piece of advice that we know with regard to how we tackle drug harm that is currently rippling through our communities.

I want to acknowledge, to begin with, the loss of lives that have been experienced in communities throughout this country: the sons and daughters that have been mentioned, but so too those who are homeless and jobless and amongst the most vulnerable in our society, which the research and evidence and coroners’ reports show are typically the users of these synthetics.

I think that all politicians, fundamentally, want the same thing here. We want reduced harm, we want safer communities, and we want investment in solutions that will actually work. So I think it makes a whole lot of sense to unpack how we got here and into this mess to begin with. In the early 2010s, synthetic substances began to emerge on the market, and what Parliament found is that we could not legislate to keep up with emerging substances by using the flawed model of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. In 2011, the Law Commission provided a deeply comprehensive report on the efficacy of that Misuse of Drugs Act 1975, and it recommended a complete repeal and replacement of the legislation, which was simply not working to reduce harm. It also recommended new regulations for emerging substances.

In 2013, the Psychoactive Substances Act, which this amendment would change, was passed unanimously in this House. It was heralded internationally as a world first to provide sensible regulation for new psychoactive substances, but that optimism quickly dwindled. It contained a provision in its original sections for the interim licensing of products that hadn’t yet been reported or complained about, but in May 2014, after the problem became visible as a result of the regulations that were imposed around that interim licensing, such as where they could be sold, politicians responded to moral panic and all parties at the time, except for the 14 Green MPs in the House, voted for those interim licences to be revoked. Speaking to that knee-jerk revocation of those licences, Kevin Hague, who is a former Green MP and health spokesperson, on the third reading of that Psychoactive Substances Amendment Bill warned about what would happen, and I quote: “Prohibition takes supply out of the hands of regulated, controlled retailers and instead puts that supply into the hands of criminal gangs or other illicit suppliers. Unfortunately, what that means is … the drug dealer on the street [or] in the alleyway behind the shop[s] at Naenae and the drug dealer in the tinny house are not subject to [the] same controls. Those people supplying the demand … will not go away as a result of [a] bill [that] tonight will not be checking … for their ID or for proof of age. We should expect that supply to people under age will increase as a result of this bill. Those people will not be making a distinction between those products that are low risk and those products that are high risk. We should expect that the supply of products that are high risk will increase as a result of this bill. Those people, those illicit drug dealers, will, in addition to having a range of psychoactive substances—those currently legal and … illegal—have, in another pocket, … drugs like methamphetamine. So the product of this bill will be that … demand, which will not go away [will actually be increased]. We are going to [see] a significant increase in harm.” And what did we see? We saw exactly what was foretold by Green MP Kevin Hague. We have seen the proliferation of psychoactive substances and their harm increase as a result of a lack of regulation. The chemicals have got nastier and cheaper to produce and throw together.

I want to quote here from a user from west Auckland who was interviewed by Vice Media, who stated, and I quote, “You get all these people addicted, like actually [expletive] addicted, and then you just take it away and [you] make it illegal? Of course it’s gonna go underground, and people are gonna start making [expletive] that is harmful.”

I also want to speak to the experience of the CEO of Lifewise, Moira Lawler, who is one of the providers of the Housing First model, which is often celebrated by many in this House as a perfect way to tackle homelessness by way of wraparound services. Moira, in relation to the synthetics crisis, stated, and I quote, “[We] had one of our whānau arrested and charged with dealing and one of the things the police said [which] really stuck [in my mind] was that their unit was full of coins. You don’t make your fortune dealing synthetics … [but] People use it because it’s all they can afford.”

We’ve also had the police submit on this bill, saying that they are not going to arrest their way out of it. We have had ample evidence, as has been quoted by previous speakers, such as from the likes of Massey’s SHORE & Whariki—the research centre—which states “Experience from overseas is that increasing penalties for drug trafficking increases convictions and prisoner numbers while [having only] a minimal impact on drug prices and availability.”

In 2017, when media reported that at least seven people had died from synthetic usage, former Prime Minister Bill English said it was an issue of personal responsibility and denied Government intervention was needed. That death toll from synthetic use rose to 25 in 2017, and now to 45 in 2018, and I am glad that the National Party has now changed their position from labelling this an issue of personal responsibility, because that is far too often an abdication of political responsibility.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Well, support the bill—support the bill.

CHLÖE SWARBRICK: Political responsibility, Dr Nick Smith, looks like the boldness to do what works.

On Monday of this week, I was at the opening of the harm reduction conference in Christchurch. It was timed to commemorate 30 years of needle exchange in New Zealand, which was introduced in 1987 by health Minister Dr Michael Bassett in the Lange Government. Due to that policy 30 years ago, New Zealand has a prevalence of HIV among those who inject drugs in New Zealand of 0.2 percent compared to 13 percent internationally. At the bill’s introduction, Dr Michael Bassett stated “I do not think it is possible to have a perfect solution when the position is … a balance of awfulness.”

No one here is saying that drugs are cool or fun; what we are saying is that they exist and we have to deal with that. We have to reduce harm, and if we want to do something, why do we not do something that works? This entire system is broken, and we have known it for a very long time. We have known it because the evidence and the advice provided to politicians shows—[Interruption]

ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Poto Williams): Order! Order!

CHLÖE SWARBRICK: —that increasing penalties will not reduce drug accessibility—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Two years is inadequate.

ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Poto Williams): Order, Mr Smith.

CHLÖE SWARBRICK: —or affordability. We must treat drugs as a health issue, and that looks like taking them out of the shadows and providing regulation.

When people imagine regulation, they think of a free-for-all. They think of chaos. They think of bringing the issue into the light. But what we have right now in the shadows is chaos. Anybody anywhere in New Zealand who wants drugs can access them. Drug dealers, as was stated by Kevin Hague, are not checking ID, nor are they checking the safeness of the substances that they are flicking off. We know that arresting these dealers is only going to result in further dealers popping up, because the evidence shows it. So if we want to do something that works, we have to follow the evidence.


Leave a comment


  1. robertguyton

     /  18th October 2018

    Those Greens are good people, aren’t they. Kevin Hague’s a lovely man; sincere and trustworthy. He’s not a Nat.

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  18th October 2018

      You miss the obvious point, known for some time to everyone else; that it’s no longer illegal in Canada, so people would be reporting something that is not a crime.

      In other words, they are wasting everyone’s time. It’s like reporting people for growing potatoes.

  2. Griff.

     /  18th October 2018

    “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. ”
    Source Disputed.

    We are killing needlessly with the continuance of the failed war on drugs .
    One death is one too many.
    Stop persecuting drug users and start treating all drugs in a rational way to minimize their harm to society.
    We will all be better off.

  3. “We desperately need sensible drug law reform.” sez the banner-man

    Go. Chloe you good thing, the WAR on Drugs is a failure & its time to stop this regressive rhetoric from the Alt-Right. NZ did not signup to MrTs call for ‘MORE WAR’

    It is actually an attack on personal civil/human rights to deny adults their right to ingest this plant.. as they see fit.

    Canada has just said ‘Lets do this’ time we agreed

  4. PartisanZ

     /  18th October 2018

    Our future Prime Minister …?

  5. Zedd

     /  18th October 2018

    meanwhile Canadians are now free to say ‘then I got high.. then I got high.. then I got even higher…’ :/

  6. Smilin’ in Canada

    • PartisanZ

       /  18th October 2018

      Wow, that’s awesome … thanks Zedd …

      A happy progressive’s smile, but plenty of issues left to sort out …

      I loved this, ” … cannabis isn’t something new, invented by men in suits …”

      • armistice day.. is on the rise ?
        we’ve been waiting a long time.. 43 yrs

        • Zedd

           /  18th October 2018

          I just hope I live long enuf to c it ??

          as Dr King once said.. I have seen the promised land.. but.. i may not get there with u 😦

    • PartisanZ

       /  18th October 2018

      Also loved the focus on “civil liberties” … which I guess is what it’s ultimately about … Human Rights …


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: