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Directors Cut

Ross Bell MOS

Ross Bell
Executive Director

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Debate about drug law can fall into a trap. The focus can too easily be abstract and academic or stray dangerously into ideology.

I was reminded of this when I again watched the speech that Tuari Potiki, our Board chair, gave at the UN three years ago. 

In his kōrero on ending the drug war, he invited nations to look at things afresh: “Remember that the people we’re all here talking about are our sons, our daughters. And if you think just for a minute, how would you want your son or daughter to be treated, then the way forward becomes very, very clear.” (Watch the speech on YouTube).

Let’s imagine what the rewrite of our drug policies and laws looks like if we put our families front and centre.

I don’t want my kids to use drugs (my eldest has just become a teenager), but I don’t want their futures ruined with a criminal conviction if they do. I want them to receive high-quality drug education while at school and be equipped to live in a world where alcohol and other drugs exist.

As they get older and go to parties and festivals, if they choose to use drugs, I want them to access harm-reduction services. I want them to get help easily if ever they have a problem. When they’re adults, I don’t want them buying cannabis from organised crime, who might rather sell them synnies or meth.

Like you, I want the best for my kids as they get older and the same for all young New Zealanders.

New Zealand’s current drug law has failed to protect young people. We continue to have some of the highest cannabis use rates in the world, and organised crime groups have been enriched in the process. The 50-year experiment with cannabis prohibition has simply not worked to protect public health. We can’t allow it to continue.

Legal regulation of cannabis gives us the tools to do better at keeping it out of the hands of young New Zealanders. After all, drug dealers don’t check ID. Legal regulation provides safe access of potency-controlled products to adults who choose to use them. Legal regulation undermines the criminal black market and instead returns tax for spending on drug prevention, education and treatment.

For drugs other than cannabis, such as methamphetamine, the Portugal model also provides greater help for our families. Their model of decriminalisation, combined with treatment and social support pathways, has brought major public health gains. But most importantly it’s shifted the way society views “the drug problem”. 

It has removed the shame and stigma that people and their families often face with drug problems. People seek help without judgement, and it is available.

Amendments being made right now to our drug law, coupled with the massive new budget spending for mental health and addiction, puts New Zealand on a path towards showing compassion and kindness to our families affected by drugs. That makes me happy.

In drug policy debates you will often hear people say, “We need to think of the children!” Yes we do, which is why I advocate for reform.

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