It’s finally here, and it was worth the wait!
Two years of behind-the-scenes work has resulted in a considered, balanced and comprehensive review of a complex bit of law.
That’s my humble assessment of the Law Commission’s Misuse of Drugs Act discussion document, released for consultation this month.
The document opens with this very blunt – yet accurate – assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act: It “no longer provides a coherent and effective legislative framework for responding to the misuse of psychoactive drugs… The Act is now outdated and does not reflect current knowledge and understanding about drug use and related health, social and economic harms.” Hear, hear!
The Commission’s review covers a lot of ground including: how we should measure and classify drug harm; controls over medicinal cannabis; regulations over substances not covered by international treaties; diversion options for possession; and principles around compulsory admission for addiction treatment.
In developing its proposals, the Commission says the primary justification for regulation is to minimise the harm drugs cause to persons other than the drug user and to society as a whole.
One of the most important areas of the review relates to the personal use of drugs.In Chapter 11, the Commission identifies options to limit the harms created by the law itself. Much of what the Commission outlines encompasses regulatory models used effectively in other jurisdictions, including from across the Tasman. The Commission also outlines a pathway to support and treatment away from the criminal justice system.
The review’s terms of reference constrained the Commission to working within our obligations under the three international drug treaties. (That the international treaties themselves need an overhaul is obvious – but we should not expect the Commission to be burdened with that task!) Some will be frustrated by this. The first treaty celebrates its 50th anniversary next year, and if our 35-year-old law is obsolete, then that treaty is well and truly fossilised. In spite of this, the Commission has rightly identified flexibilities within the bounds of these treaties that allow for many of the progressive options outlined in its review.
Let’s not be scared by the Commission’s proposals. They are not radical, but they are progressive, and they are exactly what New Zealand needs in order to find a better balance in the ways we seek to reduce drug harm and help those in need.
I recommend you carefully read the Commission’s work and have your say.
NB Over 10 years the Drug Foundation has published 500 articles in the Matters of Substance magazine. Half of these stories are available here as webpages, and the rest are in PDF format only (download February 2010 copy 1.8 MB).
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