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Organisers are calling this week’s Healthy Drug Law Symposium the most significant drug policy discussion in New Zealand’s history.

The invitation-only International Drug Policy Symposium – Through the Maze: Healthy Drug Law, is being held in Wellington 18-19 February. Its agenda will include discussion of a number of drug-related local issues, including the review of New Zealand’s 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act by the independent Law Commission.

The symposium is also a precursor to a March meeting of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs in Vienna where the direction of global drug policy for the next 10 years will be set.

NZ Drug Foundation Executive Director, Ross Bell, said the range and importance of speakers at the symposium is unprecedented. “Never before have so many drug and policy experts from here and from overseas been gathered in one place in New Zealand. It’s an incredible opportunity to discuss drug policy issues and make recommendations on what drug policy and legislation should look like both nationally and internationally.”

Speakers from around the world include government advisors, United Nations officials, academics and leaders of highly-effective non-government organisations. New Zealand government ministers, police officials, judges and representatives from the Law Commission will also be attending.

Mr Bell said New Zealand’s Misuse of Drugs Act is hopelessly out of step with our National Drug Policy and inadequate to cope with current and emerging drug use patterns.

“Now more than ever, in-depth discussion is needed about what the nature of New Zealand’s drug law and policy should be. It’s also a situation occurring in most other countries. The ways people are using drugs and the drugs available are changing radically and, in many cases, traditional approaches aimed at reducing the consequences of drug use have had little effect.”

Mr Bell dismissed as ridiculous a newspaper report that the symposium has a secret agenda of pushing for drug legalisation simply because a grant of $35,000 from a George Soros foundation has been received.

“Nothing further was from our minds in planning the symposium. Speakers were invited because of their expertise, not because of any particular viewpoint. Collectively they represent a very wide range of views.

“We’re quite open about our agenda which is to promote health-based drug policy and law, and not to create a Trojan Horse for decriminalisation. There are no closed sessions or ‘secret squirrel’ meetings. The entire event is open to the media and will be filmed and published. To suggest the symposium a front for pro-drug organisations is just plain ignorant and silly.”

Hon Max Bradford, Chair of the New Zealand Society on Alcohol and Drug Dependence and a former Cabinet Minister, said the report was inaccurate and sensationalist.

“The funding in question actually came from the Open Society Institute which promotes a greater focus on public health and human rights in drug policy. There is no money from Mr Soros.

“What we’re aiming to do through the symposium is to reduce drug-related harm, and to make families and communities safer. We all have a vested interest in reducing the impact of drug abuse on individuals, society and government.

“The symposium is an unprecedented opportunity so it’s important we don’t get distracted by these sorts of irresponsible and inaccurate reports.”

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