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Something amazing happened in Wellington in August. A group of 100 people representing more than 60 diverse organisations came together to discuss drug policy, and at the end, everyone agreed on a way forward for New Zealand’s national drug policy. This proves New Zealand’s response to drugs does not have to be a divisive issue.
Our ambitious plan brought together some of the people most affected by drugs and drug policy but who had never had a chance to talk about it: families, communities, schools. We had representatives from the addiction treatment sector, teachers and principals, and the lovely people from Grandparents Raising Grandchildren sitting next to NORML, the Police Association and the Needle Exchange Programme.
This community-led approach culminated in a 10,000 word declaration that will shape New Zealand’s future drug policy. It’s not just a list of demands to government but a commitment to work together to address our nation’s drug issues. Our collective wisdom allowed the group to find common ground on some important issues.
Early intervention in schools was one such issue. We know, if students are engaged at school and they stay involved in education, they are less likely to experiment with drugs and more likely to have fewer problems in later life. Schools play an important role in this respect, and they should be supported to help students in trouble.
Another area of agreement is the need to invest in more treatment services. Making treatment accessible means alerting people to the fact it is available. Also, barriers such as criminal sanctions should be removed so people aren’t fearful of seeking help. By decreasing the stigma associated with drug use and lowering the barriers to get into treatment, we will see less harm in our communities and more families getting help.
The group also expressed overwhelming support for a substantial overhaul of the laws that govern New Zealand’s response to drugs.
The declaration was created with a spirit of good will and a desire for better cooperation and collaboration between everyone affected by drugs and drug policy. We trust the government, and any other organisation with an interest in an Aotearoa New Zealand free from drug harm, will accept it in the spirit it was created and that we all can make it a reality.
You can read and sign up to the Wellington Declaration on our website.