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Directors Cut

Ross Bell MOS

Ross Bell
Executive Director

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Women’s suffrage. Conquering Everest. Nuclear free. Treaty reconciliation. These are all proud moments in Aotearoa New Zealand’s short history, but they all happened a wee time ago.

Don’t you think it’s about time we added another landmark achievement to this list?

And can I be so bold to propose that comprehensive drug law reform be our next proud moment?

Let’s imagine a new Aotearoa New Zealand where we approach our drug problem in a more sophisticated and compassionate way, where we invest in the potential of young people instead of burdening them, where we equip our Police to better prevent crime, where we empower our communities to look after those with drug use disorders.

The Drug Foundation’s vision is for “Aotearoa New Zealand free from drug harm”.

For us, this means we not only tackle the direct harms from a person’s alcohol or other drug use, we also seek to remove the harms created by our drug control systems and laws.

Changing our drug law is the next step we should take to free ourselves from the harm of conviction, of shame, of discrimination, of stigmatisation.

How should this be done?

We have long engaged in public discussion and debate about what a ‘health first’ approach to drug law might look like in a fairly general sense. It’s now high time to talk specifics.

We’re hosting a major parliamentary symposium this month to hear from international colleagues about how they implemented drug law reform and discuss amongst ourselves how we can eliminate the harms currently created by our law. The cover story in this issue lays out our case.

We’re also releasing a proposed model drug law, which – because of our impatience – we want in place by 2020. Yes, this is only 3 years away, but we’re not starting from scratch.

Our model draws heavily on the Law Commission’s earlier Misuse of Drugs Act review (which proposed a model of health referral instead of criminal convictions and of removing any legal barriers to innovative harm-reduction practices) and on the existing Psychoactive Substances Act (which imposes strict public health regulation over lower-risk drugs). Our model also demands new spending in education, harm reduction and treatment – elements of Aotearoa New Zealand’s current drug policy that have been limited by a long-term lack of investment.

Let’s not let any pre-election short-term political anxiety prevent us from following that new direction. Indeed, it’s been welcome to see in the last few months a number of political parties happy to engage in very public discussions about reform. But we still need to find a way to help those larger parties from overcoming their shyness.

We want your feedback on our model drug law. We’ll be holding public meetings over the rest of 2017, and you are also welcome to comment via our website.

Happy reading. 

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