‘Model drug law’ seeks feedback

The NZ Drug Foundation has put out Whakawātea te Huarahi – A Model Drug Law to 2020 and Beyond, and they are seeking feedback.

Our thinking is based on evidence and research from New Zealand and around the world about the best way to reduce the harms caused by both drugs and our current drug law.

‘Whakawātea’ means to clear, free up, cleanse or purify spiritually, while ‘huarahi’ is a pathway, road or track. The title of our model drug law is intended to signify a fresh start for the debate on drug policy and a sense of movement towards a better future.

The key to moving towards an Aotearoa free from drug harm is to start treating drug use as a health issue rather than a criminal issue. Our model drug law proposes:

  • Removing criminal penalties for the possession, use and social supply of all drugs
  • Developing a strictly regulated cannabis market
  • Putting more resources into prevention, education and treatment.

The document is intended to be a conversation starter. We’d love to know what you think.

Download: Whakawatea te Huarahi – A Model Drug Law to 2020 and Beyond (July2017)( PDF 3.2mb )


There are many possible paths to reforming New Zealand’s outdated drug law. The ideas we’ve presented are based on solid evidence and public health principles. 

To ensure Whakawātea te Huarahia – A Model Drug Law to 2020 and beyond is as as good as it can be, please tell us what you think. We welcome all constructive feedback.

These are the sorts of questions we’d like to hear from you about.

  • Are our proposals workable?
  • What parts would you change and why?

As well as commenting below, we will be bringing as many voices together as possible this year to develop consensus around a workable model. We’ll be holding community hui and talking to iwi, politicians, service providers, people who use drugs and many others. Watch this space.

Tell us what you think

Dunne’s drug symposium speech

Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne delivered the opening speech at the Healthy Drug Law Parliamentary Symposium in Wellington. Here is his speech:

Healthy Drug Law Parliamentary Symposium, Parliament Buildings

It is my great pleasure to welcome you all this morning to the Healthy Drug Law Parliamentary Symposium, and to our sponsor, the New Zealand Drug Foundation.

I thank Alison for her warm introduction.

Alison has taken a strong interest on drug issues for some time now, and she and I have spoken on it relatively frequently – I cannot think of a better Chair for this event.

Today we have come from all corners of the world to work together on shifting attitudes and responses to drug issues.

It is a fantastic opportunity for us to explore some innovative ways in which we might tackle these complex issues and I want to extend my warmest greetings to those who have travelled from outside of Wellington to be here, particularly to our international guests.

There is a lot going on in New Zealand at present, we have an international rugby tour, a celebration of a significant yachting competition win, preparation for a General Election in a little under 12 weeks and of course we have this Symposium (clearly the most important)…

Following me will be Professor Alison Ritter from Australia to present us with a first-class overview of the landscape.

Then, following Professor Ritter will be the Honourable Anne McLellan from Canada, and Alison Holcomb from the United States.

I am excited to hear the first-hand accounts of implementing drug policy in their respective jurisdictions that they have to share.

We will finish the morning with a cross-party political panel for some reflection on what we have heard in the morning’s addresses.

I want to highlight some of the things that we have achieved over the last few years, and later talk about some of the challenges remaining and the innovative thinking that has been going on in the area of drug policy in New Zealand.

As many of you will know, New Zealand’s National Drug Policy focuses on early intervention and prevention; the underlying principles being compassion, innovation and proportion.

These are principles which I have emphasised strongly on numerous occasions, from United Nations meetings in Vienna, and the New York, to here at home, and which I will continue to affirm.

With this policy we set out to:

  • increase access to support and treatment services
  • provide the knowledge and tools necessary for better decision making
  • reduce the illegal supply of drugs.

The principles of the National Drug Policy demonstrate our commitment to taking a health-based approach to minimising drug and alcohol harm in New Zealand, rather than treating drugs primarily as a law and order issue.

Given that, I would like to take a moment to highlight a few examples of the great progress that has been made under the guidance of our National Drug Policy over the last year.

In Northland, the Te Ara Oranga Methamphetamine Harm Reduction pilot is a great example of a collaborative community harm reduction approach in action.

It builds on earlier initiatives such as the Auckland Regional Methamphetamine Working Group, established in 2011, and the Waikato Methamphetamine Prevention Strategy, established in 2016.

This pilot will be a joint venture between the Police and the Northland District Health Board.

It aims to reduce demand for methamphetamine use in the Northland community, thereby reducing the harm caused by its use.

It will work with the community and whānau to help addicted users and gang members get treatment for methamphetamine use, and will be launched next month.

The high visibility of the Health Promotion Agency’s ‘Go the Distance’ campaign demonstrates our approach to minimising harm by changing attitudes.

This campaign aims to instil a new norm of moderate alcohol consumption – something of a departure from the historical New Zealand culture of hazardous drinking behaviour.

New Zealand’s Police and Customs officials have made great progress in breaking the drug supply chain.

They are developing good working relationships with overseas law enforcement agencies and have increaed the number of drug interceptions the border.

And, as a prime example of our focus on early intervention and prevention, a ‘Whole School Approach’ pilot to reduce alcohol and other harm will soon be underway across a number of schools in New Zealand.

This initiative equips schools with more resources to keep students engaged in education by:

  • creating a more positive school environment
  • delivering effective education on alcohol and drug-related harm
  • providing help for problematic substance use.

Over the next 12 months, the Government will begin work on refreshing the actions outlined in the National Drug Policy to take us into 2020.

This will build on the good work that has already been achieved and is currently underway.

As we all know, medicinal cannabis-based products are a hot topic right now, and I am looking forward to hearing what the next few speakers have to say, as well as having the opportunity to discuss it afterwards on the panel.

In New Zealand, we are in the process of developing regulations for accessing Cannabidiol on a prescription basis.

This will bring us in to line with the Australian approach, which previously identified that Cannabidiol appears to have some therapeutic benefits while having very little psychoactive effect.

This easing of restrictions on something that used to be highly regulated reflects our pragmatic and compassionate approach to this issue.

We have also made significant progress around enabling access to non-pharmaceutical grade cannabis products over the last 18 months or so – moving from a system that really did not allow for it, to having a robust clinician-led process and strong engagement from the Ministry of Health.

I am also keen to see New Zealand-based clinical trials undertaken and have advocated strongly, and will continue to, for progress on this with my ministerial colleagues.

Whether anything comes to fruition from these discussions remains to be seen, but I strongly believe New Zealand must make progress on this front to avoid falling behind other jurisdictions.

Products that have been through a robust clinical trial process I believe hold the most promise in effectively addressing the conditions for which they may be indicated – as I have stated previously, trial and error is not an appropriate approach to serious illness in a first world country such as New Zealand.

While I am delighted that we have achieved some success in lessening drug harm, reducing supply and easing unnecessary legal restrictions, we must remain focussed on the challenges ahead.

For example, we need to continue to reduce hazardous alcohol consumption and nurture a moderate drinking culture.

Reducing hazardous alcohol consumption, and changing attitudes towards it, are key objectives of the National Drug Policy.

So far, there has been encouraging progress.

The percentage of adults who drink hazardously has decreased from 18% in 2006/07 to 16 percent in 2013/14 – a small but significant improvement.

Perhaps most significantly, among 18-24 year olds, hazardous drinking has decreased from 43% in 2006/07 to just 33% in 2013/14.

That is a substantial decrease of nearly a quarter, and it is great to see young people leading by example in this area.

Yes, the binge drinking levels among 18-24 year olds are still unacceptably high, but such a significant decrease must be acknowledged for its magnitude – the message is getting through and a significant proportion are either changing their behaviour or refraining from such behaviour in the first place.

That said, our rates of hazardous drinking remain high by international standards, and alcohol continues to be a key factor in about a third of New Zealand’s fatal road crashes.

Alcohol is also a key factor in a third of family violence incidents.

But let me say this – while alcohol may be a factor, it is no excuse, because there is simply no excuse.

There is no place for family and domestic violence, not in New Zealand, and not anywhere else, and I want to commend the work of my colleague Hon Amy Adams, and many others, in this area.

Of course, we cannot address these issues properly without addressing the harmful stigma which engulfs alcohol and substance use disorders.

We must build on the good work done so far to cultivate a more moderate drinking culture, have more open conversations, and make it easier to access alcohol, drug and youth support services.

Earlier this year I read an article in the news about workplace drug testing, in which the head of a drug testing agency stated about employers, and I quote, “they certainly don’t want someone who’s got an addiction problem entering into their workplace.”

I found this a pretty disappointing and counterproductive perspective, and unfortunately indicative of the views of some, perhaps many, around addiction issues.

Drug testing plays an important role in New Zealand’s higher risk work places, particularly where machinery is involved, for the benefit of the individual, their colleagues and the company as a whole.

But let us not lose sight of the health and safety reasons for it, and not start using it as a de facto law enforcement and punitive measure.

Drug testing of course has been a popular topic this week, but from a harm prevention public health perspective.

The Drug Foundation’s revelation that drug testing facilities at music festivals had enabled intending drug takers to get their various products tested and make an informed choice about whether to proceed is significant, and frankly such an approach must be supported by Government.

The law is, in my view, grey on the matter and I plan to have further discussions on the issue.

At a minimum, the replacement Misuse of Drugs Act, planning for which I hope will commence after the election, will need to address such situations primarily from a public health perspective.

Another issue which I am eager to keep discussing is – how do we walk the fine legal line between a compassionate approach toward low-risk drug use, and an uncompromising stance on large-scale criminal activity?

Finding a solution that truly works is something that I am passionate about.

I hear on an almost daily basis from individuals who have a particular perspective, and so often the approach that they put forward ‘will solve everything and we will all live happily ever after’, either by locking all the druggies up or by throwing the market wide open and laughing all the way to the bank.

Personally, I do not believe that there is a perfect system, or a perfect policy out there.

Most of the approaches I have seen and read about have positives and negatives – the key is to develop a system that suits New Zealand and maximises the benefits while minimising the negatives.

Sounds pretty simple does it not?

Long-term, relevant and effective strategies, I believe, will be born out of progressive thinking and concrete evidence.

New Zealand has already demonstrated an ability to make a unique mark on drug reform landscape.

The Psychoactive Substances Act revolutionised our response to the ever-changing psychoactive market, and put us back in the driver’s seat.

This innovative approach places the onus on the supplier.

They must first prove the safety of a new psychoactive before selling it.

Previously, we were always one step behind, scrambling to get the safety data after a harmful substance was already on the market.

I anticipate that we will see the benefits of this Act in the near future, once alternatives to animal testing are approved.

When that occurs, it is my long-held view that we should consider shifting those low grade drugs currently scheduled under the Misuse of Drugs Act, to the Psychoactive Substances Act, where they can be tested and regulated under its provisions, if deemed to be low-risk.

That will not only establish a regulated market for such items, but will also deal to the black and criminal markets which currently control the production and distribution of such drugs.

The bottom line has to be to get the criminals out of the drug business where possible, and I am optimistic that the use of the Psychoactive Substances Act regime in this way would vastly improve the drug situation in New Zealand.

As many of you will know, I am a strong supporter of the Portuguese approach to drug regulation.

It manages to balance tolerance for low-risk use with clear legal and health-focussed boundaries.

Unfortunately, people tend to focus on the former aspect.

However, making cultivation and possession illegal, while referring all drug users for assessment and, if appropriate, treatment, is the crux of the system.

In Portugal’s case, possession of up to 10 days’ worth of low-risk drug supply would warrant referral for treatment rather than legal consequences – a proportionate response to low-level drug use.

Much of the time and money that would have gone into prosecution, can instead be invested into assessment and treatment services, all the while, freeing up Police resources.

In New Zealand, the Ministry of Health will be exploring further options this year for minimising harm in relation to the offence and penalty regime for personal possession within the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

This is one of the 28 actions contained in the government’s National Drug Policy 2015 – 2020, which, if I strongly encourage you to read, if you have not already done so.

Anybody who saw my interview on Q&A on the weekend will have heard me refer to the National Drug Policy repeatedly – it is in my view an excellent document and plan of action, and addresses many of the questions that the media regularly put to me on drug issues.

As it was being prepared, I had my eye not just on the here and now situation, but also on what might develop over the years, so therefore focused on a document that provided a clear pathway for the future for those who wished to see it.

My critics accuse me of dragging my feet on drug policy, of withholding, denying and clinging grimly to the status quo.

To them I say this, in the last 5 years I have overseen:

  • the development of the internationally acclaimed Psychoactive Substances Act;
  • a pathway to access non-pharmaceutical grade cannabis products (approving all applications I received);
  • direct prescribing of Sativex by doctors;
  • Cabinet agreement to reclassify Cannabidiol;
  • the launch of the outstanding Alcohol and Other Drug Court alongside Hon Judith Collins
  • a host of other initiatives such as those contained in the National Drug Policy, which I launched in 2015

And I continue to advocate for clinical trials, and drug-testing at festivals.

I have attended multiple international and national forums and spoken of New Zealand’s compassionate, innovative and proportionate response and condemned the use of the death penalty in foreign jurisdictions, particularly in regard to drug offences.

All of this has been achieved as a single member Party in a confidence and supply arrangement with a conservative government.

So to my critics I say, show me what you have achieved.

This is not to say that more cannot be done, and that is why this Symposium is so valuable.

The Drug Foundation has lined up an array of excellent speakers whom I look forward to hearing from, and whom I am sure will also endorse the three key principles that I have emphasised.

And I will be delighted to discuss the issues on the panel with an elite selection of my parliamentary colleagues.

Let me also extend my congratulations to Drug Foundation executive director, Ross Bell, for organising this event.

Ross does a great job, particularly around advocating for change where he thinks it is needed.

He drives the issues and holds the Government to account, which is not always enjoyable for me, but it is appropriate, and I enjoy the constructive and open working relationship that has developed between Ross and me.

So when Ross approached me about hosting the Symposium here at Parliament, I had no hesitation.

I am excited to be part of the conversation on the future of drug policy.

Over the next couple of days I challenge you to think boldly and consider how we can come together to solve some of the challenges that lie ahead – I will do the same.

I very much look forward to participating, as my diary permits, in the rest of the symposium.

Drug Foundation details: 2017 Parliamentary Drug Law Symposium


Cannabis law reform – when, how, not if

It may take a change of government but it looks likely cannabis (and other drug) law will be reformed. It’s just a matter of when and how.

The National Party is the main impediment to drug law reform.

Stuff: What would happen if New Zealand legalised cannabis?

Peter Dunne, the bespectacled politician in the bow-tie, was the unlikely hero of drug reform.

Not really. I’ve known he was open to cannabis law change six years ago because I asked him about it.

In May, the Associate Health Minister ventured that “some, if not all” class C drugs should be reclassified and regulated.

That Dunne, a 63-year-old, 11-term MP should be the one to fly the kite for drug reform – and hit no particular turbulence – said a lot. Perhaps he was not such an unlikely hero after all.

Three-quarters of adult New Zealanders have tried cannabis. Diversion for low-level personal cannabis use is common. And the Government has recently made allowances for some medicinal cannabis use.

So, what if it was legal?

Stuff has just launched “a major series exploring that prospect”.

What would happen if farmers could sow cannabis crops? Would gangs suffer from it becoming legal? Could our health system manage a possible surge in patients with addiction problems? Is there a massive tax windfall awaiting us in a regulated market?

It’s time we explored these questions in detail as, in all probability, a regulated market draws nearer.

There are signs cannabis prohibition could be headed the same way as the ban on same-sex marriage. Only a year or two before a conservative MP stood in New Zealand’s Parliament to celebrate “the big gay rainbow” that welcomed same sex marriage, that law change appeared unlikely, at best. We could be in the middle of the same kind of sea-change right now.

poll last year suggested almost two-thirds of New Zealanders believed possession of a small amount of cannabis for personal use should be either legal (33 per cent) or decriminalised (31 per cent).

The split between those for legalisation and those for decriminalisation reflects where the debate really resides: not whether we should change cannabis laws – but how.

This is strong public support for change.

Expert opinion weighs even more heavily in favour of change.

We start today by explaining the basic differences between depenalisation, decriminalisation and legalisation.

To be clear: this project does not mean we’re supporting cannabis use or even advocating for law reform. It means we’re advocating addressing the cannabis question head-on, through a candid conversation about the benefits and drawbacks of a change in drug policy.

The debate is at a tipping point and in need of informed discussion in the mainstream. And that includes everyone – the dread-locked, the sports jocks and the bow-tied.

This series will help drive the debate and will hopefully get through to reluctant MPs.

The status quo on drug law is untenable.


Dunne: drug law reversing onus of proof on way

Media Release

Cabinet has agreed key details of new psychoactive substances drug legislation that will require distributors and producers of party pills and other legal highs to prove they are safe before they can sell them, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne announced today.

“As promised, we are reversing the onus of proof. If they cannot prove that a product is safe, then it is not going anywhere near the marketplace,” Mr Dunne said.

“The legislation will be introduced to Parliament later this year and be in force by around the middle of next year.

‘In the meantime, the Temporary Class Drug Notices – the holding measure we have successfully put in place – will be rolled over as required so there is no window of opportunity for any banned substances to come back on the market before the permanent law comes in,” he said.

 “The new law means the game of ‘catch up’ with the legal highs industry will be over once and for all.

“I have been driving this for a considerable time. None of these products will come to market if they have not been proven safe – and the cost of proving that will be on those who make and sell them, as it should be,” he said.

“Quite simply they will now have to do what any manufacturer of any product that is consumed or ingested already has to do – make sure it is safe.”

Mr Dunne said that in the past year the Government had put a serious dent in the synthetic cannabis market with the Temporary Class Drug Notices.

“We have seen a 75 percent fall in the number of emergency call incidents around synthetic cannabis products according to National Poisons Centre data.

“That decline began the very month the Notices came into effect,” he said.

“We have banned more than 28 substances and effectively taken more than 50 products that contain them off the market. The latest four substances were just banned on Friday.

“We are winning the battle and we are about to deliver the knockout blow with this legislation,” he said.

Mr Dunne said Cabinet has agreed to establish a new regulator within the Ministry of Health which will be responsible for issuing approvals.

“Companies wishing to sell these products will need to apply to this regulator with scientific data similar to that which is required for the assessment of new medicines.

“For example, they would need to provide toxicology data and results of human clinical trials,” Mr Dunne said.

These tests will prevent products which cause common adverse reactions from being approved for legal sale.

“However, in the end these are pharmacologically active substances, and there is always some degree of risk in taking such products because people can have varying reactions to them,” he said.

Even once approved, any such products are likely to be subject to retail restrictions which will further reduce their potential to cause harm, he said.

“The details of these restrictions have not yet been agreed, but I fully expect that they will involve a legal minimum purchase age and restrictions on the types of premises where they can be sold.

“The legislation will be introduced later this year and will be in place by August 2013. In the meantime all of the existing Temporary Class Drug Notices will be rolled over for a further 12 months so there will be no slippage between them and the coming legislation,” Mr Dunne said.

The Cabinet paper and the regulatory impact statement can be found at


Questions and Answers

What are low risk psychoactive substances?

This refers to new psychoactive substances for which the risks are low enough that they meet the approval criteria set by the regulatory. We say ‘low-risk’ to avoid implying that they will be entirely safe, as there will always be some risk. This is because different people have different reactions to pharmacologically active substances.

Why are we doing this?

We are doing this because the current situation is untenable. Current legislation is ineffective in dealing with the rapid growth in synthetic psychoactive substances which can be tweaked to be one step ahead of controls. Products are being sold without any controls over their ingredients, without testing requirements, or controls over where they can be sold. The government must prove a risk of harm before controlling a substance. The new regime will require a supplier or manufacturer to apply to a regulator for a safety assessment before any product can be sold.

Are we legalising drugs?

No. The regime will provide stronger controls over psychoactive substances. At the moment, these products are unregulated, with no control over ingredients, place of sale, or who they can be sold to. Because they are synthetic substances, there are a huge number of potential ingredients, which makes it unfeasible to deal with them individually.
It will be illegal to sell any product which has not been through an assessment. There will be strict restrictions on where products can be sold, the purchase age, and marketing restrictions.
What would it cost a manufacturer to take a product through the approval process, and how long would it take?

Based on initial proposals, it is estimated that the cost of testing any product will be in the range of $1 million to $2 million and will take between one and two years.

What will the implications of the new regime be for cannabis?
The legal status of cannabis will not change. This is because the regime will only cover new psychoactive substances that are not already classified under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.
Why don’t you just ban everything?
Legislation should not be used to restrict behaviour that cannot be proved to be harmful. Products that meet the approval criteria will be approved. However, our position will still be that not using these products is the safest option.
Is this a stealth way of banning everything and never approving any product?

No. Clear testing requirements are being established to determine the risks of psychoactive products. Products that meet the approval criteria will be approved.

How will risk/safety be determined?

Consistent toxicological and behavioural testing will be required for every product seeking approval. A new regulator will be established to consider the data from this testing for each product. Products that meet the approval criteria will be approved.

What do you mean by the regulator?

A regulator will need to be established for psychoactive substances. This regulator will oversee the approval of products, monitor for compliance with post market restrictions, and reassess products in light of any new evidence of harm that might arise.

How many drugs will get approved?

We don’t know this yet. Products that meet the approval criteria will be approved. This will require toxicological and behavioural testing.

How much will this cost?

Modelling of the start-up costs for the new regime is currently being worked on. A detailed report on fee-setting and costing will be provided to Cabinet by 1 October 2012.

We expect that over time, the costs of this regime will be recuperated through applications fees paid by industry.

Who will do the risk assessments?

The new regulator will consider toxicological and clinical data for each product.

Does this mean the Government is endorsing drugs?

No. At the moment these products are available without any information regarding their risks to health. We are changing the system to require industry to prove they do not pose a greater than a low risk of health before they may be sold.
Will there be controls to stop children buying these drugs from dairies?

Yes, it is intended that there will be restrictions on where substances can be sold and a minimum purchase age. I will provide Cabinet with full details of these restrictions by 1 October 2012.

What happens when the legislation comes into force? Will everything be pulled from the shelves?

Decisions have not been made on this yet but there will likely be a lead in time for industry to obtain the testing results needed.

Will this just backfire and create a bigger black market?

No. We expect that having low risk psychoactive products legally available will discourage consumers from using the black market.

Hon Peter Dunne
Associate Minister of Health