Drug summit in July

A drug summit pushing for cannabis law reform is being organised to be held at parliament in July.There will be international and New Zealand speakers with Helen Clark a possibility.

Stuff: Stories of hardship and frustration inspire big-name drug summit

Arguments for cannabis law reform, and calls for politicians to stop “running scared”, are expected at a drug summit in Wellington to be chaired by broadcaster Ali Mau.

The suffering people endured while waiting to get medicinal cannabis approved was one reason Mau said she was interested in drug law reform.

Media has been pushing cannabis legal absurdities more, in particular highlighting Helen Kelly openly saying she was flouting the law to use cannabis to alleviate pain and suffering as she died of cancer.

Drug Foundation executive director Ross Bell has long expressed frustration at the slow pace of drug law reform. In particular, he said the 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act was antiquated and unfit for purpose.

It had not tackled high rates of drug use and abuse, but instead had “burdened tens of thousands of young people and Maori with criminal convictions”.

Mau said this week: “I share Ross’ chagrin, or pain if you like, that the pace of change in New Zealand is way too slow.”

She had noticed a shift in public attitudes in recent years, with people increasingly voicing support for decriminalisation.

There has been a shift in attitude internationally, with a number of countries making changes to cannabis laws in particular.

There has also been a change in attitude in New Zealand, particularly on medicinal cannabis products, but parties and Parliament remain reluctant to do anything.

Speakers could include Helen Clark which would ensure a high profile:

Helen Clark could return to Parliament to discuss decriminalisation at the summit in July, and others are expected to voice frustration at drug law inertia, and what they see as an overemphasis on punishment.

Mau will not speak at the Parliamentary Drug Policy Symposium, but a dozen women with backgrounds in drug and alcohol research, politics, law and public health have confirmed their attendance.

“I’ve never seen a lineup as impressive,” Mau said.

Maori Party founder Tariana Turia was expected to discuss issues affecting Maori and wider criminal justice sector reforms on July 6.

Former Canadian deputy prime minister Anne McLellan, who headed that country’s task force on marijuana legalization and regulation, will speak on July 5.

Alison Holcomb, who drove efforts to legalise marijuana for recreational use in the state of Washington, will also address the two-day conference.

Bell hoped politicians would agree that drug law reforms were needed, and might realise they could make drug reform campaign promises instead of “running scared”.

This is good timing to push all parties to be clear about their drug policies and what priority they will put on them.