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Directors Cut

Ross Bell MOS

Ross Bell
Executive Director

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Did you see the furor last month with the leaked United Nations’ report on drug decriminalisation? It had all the hallmarks of a great conspiracy: a shocking secret report suppressed by sinister diplomatic pressure, revealed to the world thanks only to the valiant whistleblowing of Sir Richard Branson.

Looking back it was probably a storm in a tea cup. We shouldn’t be surprised that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has put its weight behind decriminalisation. It’s not the first time the office has said as much, which now aligns them with the positions of ten other UN bodies plus the Secretary General.

The “leaked paper” is a simple two-page statement explaining that decriminalising drug use and possession for personal consumption is consistent with international drug control conventions. It is argued these changes may be necessary for countries to meet obligations under international human rights law. This is important to hear, so the UNODC should publish the statement without fuss.

With the United Nations family forming a more coherent position on decriminalisation and stepping up its advocacy for public health and human rights-based responses to drugs, we have to ask what does this mean for countries including ours?

As a responsible global citizen New Zealand should take note and measure its own responses to drug harm against these UN proposals. I sense there’s a new willingness to do this. Statements made at recent UN drug policy meetings have highlighted principles in the government’s new national drug policy – namely proportion, innovation and compassion.

So how do those principles translate into practice through our drug law? My assessment is that the Misuse of Drugs Act is none of these things. Significant reform or repeal of the law is the only correct thing to do.

We have long argued a health-focused drug law should remove criminal penalties for minor drug offences; we favour the “Portugal Model” where sanctions are replaced with appropriate public health and treatment interventions.

There is more support every day for such an approach, both here and overseas. Outgoing Police Association President, Greg O’Connor, has voiced support for treating drugs as a health issue after seeing first-hand the results of Colorado’s reforms. The Irish drug policy minister has just announced they’ll decriminalise drugs, including heroin.

I think we are entering a new era in which we can engage the public and law makers on these tricky issues. It has taken us 40 years to get to this point, but can we agree to move forward with greater urgency now?

Ross Bell
Executive Director

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